A gray whale whose tail is entangled in a fishing net may be migrating north off the coast of San Luis Obispo County.
The whale, estimated to be 20 to 25 feet, was first spotted Sunday by a whale watching charter boat out of Dana Point in southern Orange County.
The animal was last seen Wednesday in Santa Barbara, heading north for its migration toward Alaska. It could be in the waters off SLO County’s coastline, said Justin Greenman, assistant stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The whale is dragging a pink gill net with green lines and black floats. NOAA believes it picked up the net between Mexico and California, Greenman said.
“It could be in San Luis Obispo County or could have gotten past you,” Greenman said. “We have experts in Monterey and San Francisco monitoring the situation as well.”
Capt. Chris Pica with Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching said the whale is dragging about 5 to 6 feet of netting, and he last saw it in waters about 60 feet deep. Fellow Dana Wharf Capt. Frank Brennan used a drone to capture overhead photos of the whale Sunday.
Pica has training through NOAA’s entanglement response network to assist the agency in rescuing entangled whales.
He returned to the area where the troubled whale was spotted later Sunday afternoon, with another trained entanglement volunteer, to meet up with a private boat owner who tried to keep an eye on it.
Several other whales were in the vicinity of the entangled animal, and the boat owner had trouble tracking the right one.
“The private boat owner lost track of it,” Pica said. “We’re very appreciative of his efforts. But we had to do some detective work to find it about 2 1/2 miles away. By the time we got there, it was getting late and it was too dark to do much to help the whale.”
The entangled whale was last seen heading north at about 2 knots, or about 2.3 miles per hour, Pica said.
Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA, said the agency doesn’t know much about the whale beyond what it’s seen in photos: “We believe it is a gray whale, and it does not appear to be seriously injured at this point.”
“We’re actively pursuing any sightings we get, and we urge anyone who sees the whale to call the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network and not try to disentangle the whale themselves,” Milstein said. “Whale entanglements on the West Coast are at record levels, and we’re concerned about the trend.”
Anyone who spots the whale is asked to call NOAA at 877-767-9425, the agency’s hotline for reporting entangled whales. But the public is asked not to approach the whale, though taking photos from afar would be allowed.