Can anyone help this whale? Bizarre predicament baffles experts; photos

Gray whale swims with metal frame around its head. Photo: Courtesy of Dave Anderson

**Update: The whale was spotted with a companion at 5 p.m. Monday off Goleta in Santa Barbara County. There was no rescue attempt.

Rescuers in California are on the lookout for a gray whale with a large metal contraption – possibly a crab or lobster trap – framed around its head.

A captains alert was issued Sunday, a day after the perilously encumbered whale was spotted off Orange County.

The mammal is one of about 21,000 gray whales migrating from Mexico to Alaska. It was first spotted outside Dana Point Harbor late Saturday afternoon by Capt. Frank Brennan of Dana Wharf Whale Watch. Brennan alerted NOAA Fisheries, which alerted trained disentanglement teams.

The evasive whale was last spotted off Newport Beach at dusk Saturday by Dave Anderson, a disentanglement responder and owner of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari. Anderson considered attaching a tracking buoy on the contraption, but became concerned about harming the mammal.

“With darkness closing in, we thought it was best to document the last location and hope for the best [on Sunday],” he told the Orange County Register.

There were no reported sightings of the whale on Sunday. Experts hope it will turn up Monday in the Oxnard-Ventura-Santa Barbara area.

But its predicament is such that a disentanglement team might not even know how to proceed: Metal appears to be embedded inches behind the blow holes, and a bar could be inside the whale’s mouth.

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“The challenge, first, is that it is on the head and there doesn’t appear to be any trailing gear, so very difficult to access and work on as whales typically dive and move away as we approach the head area,” Justin Viezbicke, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding network coordinator, told GrindTV.

“The second part is that the material appears to be some sort of metal, which would require a significant cutting tool. We have many tools but none are designed to cut thick metal as they are mostly used on rope and lines.”

While the whale is able to swim, it’s unclear whether it can feed.

Experts are still trying to determine what type of fishing gear is involved, if in fact it is fishing gear. It’s possible that the whale’s head became stuck inside the contraption while it probed the sea floor for food.

It’s at least the fifth confirmed entanglement involving a gray whale in 2017, and marks the continuation of a troubling trend. Last year NOAA Fisheries documented 71 whale entanglements off the West Coast (including Mexico and Canada). That was the highest total since record-keeping began in 1982.

Of those entanglements, 66 were reported off California, one off Washington, one off Oregon, two off Baja California, and one off British Columbia.