A juvenile gray whale that was the subject of a dramatic rescue effort last Saturday off Orange County, Calif., is believed to be the same whale that was found dead Tuesday afternoon about 40 miles up the coast, inside Long Beach Harbor.
Monica DeAngeles, a biologist with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, said the whale, which had become entangled in a large fishing net, had similar wounds to its tail section. It also was trailing a small piece of black rope, similar to the rope rescuers were unable to cut loose.
“It’s probable but it might also be another whale, because we do have a lot of whales that get caught in gear,” DeAngelis said. “However, this whale was skinny and so was the whale in Dana Point.”
The dead whale was towed to sea by lifeguards. Photographs were taken when the cetacean was upside down, so it’s difficult to match them with photos taken during the rescue effort, DeAngelis added.
She said it’s hoped that DNA samples will provide more information, but there was no available DNA on the netting collected by rescuers.
The gray whale was discovered with a heavy mass of gill-net tangled around its tail, or fluke area, last Friday afternoon. A disentanglement team worked all day Saturday to remove the netting, which contained a dead sea lion and two dead sharks. The whale was very thin and noticeably weakened when it swam to freedom
Based on the condition of the dead sea creatures, the whale might have been towing the net for a week or more.
The effort was led by Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. The whale was given the name “Bart” in honor of Peter Bartholomew, who stayed with the whale throughout Friday night, so rescuers would be able to locate the mammal Saturday morning.
Gray whales are migrating from Baja California breeding grounds to Arctic feeding grounds. Though the whales feed primarily on amphipods in Arctic waters, they’re known to eat small fish, red crabs and krill during the migration.