A rescue effort is underway Monday for a blue whale, believed to be some 80 feet long, that was spotted off the coast of Dana Point apparently entangled in fishing line.
The whale is about 3 to 4 miles off the coast of southern Orange County, according to Mike Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The whale appears to have a line or rope from a crab trap wrapped around its tail, Milstein said.
The animal is apparently trailing about 200 feet of line and traps, according to Capt. Dave’s Dolphin & Whale Safari, which said it had an entanglement team working on the rescue alongside NOAA and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center of Laguna Beach.
The whale was seen raising its head up near the surface and not swimming or diving normally, said Capt. Dave’s, a whale-watching business in Dana Point, in a statement.
Milstein said it’s very rare for a blue whale to become in entangled because the giant mammals — the world’s largest living animals — usually stay far away from the shore.
The whale is slowly swimming north, according to the Orange County Register, which cited federal data showing a record number of entanglements occurred in 2015.
Last year, 61 whales were reported entangled off the West Coast of the U.S., with 48 of those reports confirmed, according to a March report from NOAA. Fifty-seven of the 61 entanglements occurred off California.
The number — the highest since NOAA began keeping records in 1982, and well over the next highest, 32 in 2014 — is likely attributable to a variety of factors, the report stated.
So far in 2016, nearly 40 whales have been reported entangled, the Center for Biological Diversity said earlier this month. The environmental advocacy group called the situation a “crisis.”
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife in May asked Dungeness crab fishers to avoid setting gear in humpback whale areas, and to minimize the use of trailer buoys. Humpbacks have been the species most often involved in recent entanglements.
YouTube video posted by Capt. Dave’s on Monday showed the blue whale off Dana Point towing at least two marker buoys.
The floats were trailing 150 to 200 feet behind the whale, pulling its fluke down, according to Capt. Chuck Gathers with Capt. Dave’s.
“Who knows how much weight it is? But to put a blue whale’s tail under water that far, it had to be quite a bit of weight,” Gathers said.