LOS ANGELES – The hunt is on for the great blue whale in distress.
A plane, helicopter and boat searched Saturday for a blue whale entangled in fishing line off southern California after rescue efforts were suspended overnight, according to KCBS.
The blue whale was tethered to a red-orange buoy Friday that slowed it down and allowed rescuers and seafaring public to spot it more easily, said Peter Wallerstein, president of Marine Animal Rescue, a nonprofit authorized to rescue marine animals.
“It’s really big,” Wallerstein said about the animal.
The entangled whale is thin and 80 feet long, Wallerstein said. While, the longest blue whale ever measured was over 108 feet long, according to the Smithsonian Institute.
The blue whale, an endangered species that’s also earth’s largest animal, was last seen Friday 4 miles off the southern end of Catalina, an island 22 miles off mainland California, Wallerstein said.
As of early Saturday afternoon, the blue whale proved elusive, and crews continued their search, Wallerstein said.
The effort marks the first time that federal and local teams have worked together to rescue a blue whale off California, Wallerstein said.
“They can move pretty quick. They travel long distances in a short period of time,” Wallerstein said of the blue whale’s whereabouts. “[And,] one swish of the tail can kill you or knock your boat out of commission.”
Aerial photos Friday showed the whale surfacing and then diving, pulling a long fishing line.
“It’s in pretty good condition,” Wallerstein. “It’s swimming really good.”
The mission of federal, local and nonprofit teams is to free the blue whale from the fishing net, which whale watchers first reported saw.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has made a national priority out of addressing the injury and mortality of large whales entangled in fishing gear, such as traps, pots and netting.
An average of 11 large whales have become entangled in such gear on the West Coast from 2000 to 2012, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“However, along the U.S. west coast, much is unknown about why, when, where and how whales are seriously injured or killed due to entanglement, how this threat may be affecting their populations and what can be done to minimize the risk,” read the 2013 report by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
There are 10,000 to 25,000 blue whales in the world, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They can be found off California, Chile and the Coral Triangle near Indonesia.
Anyone who spots the whale should call authorities.