‘Gray Whales Count’ volunteers count whales swimming past the Coal Oil Point nature preserve in Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus.
On Monday, toward the end of their 9 a.m.to 5 p.m. count, they spotted an entangled gray whale.
“It looked like something was sticking out of the whale,” said Michael Smith.
At first Smith thought it was a spear, but when the whale swam by he said it looked more like a lobster trap. Smith and his colleague quickly realized it was one rescuers were looking for off the California coast.
Whale watchers first spotted this one off Dana Point, swimming about 3 knots or 3-4 miles an hour. They didn’t expect it to reach Santa Barbara’s shores until Tuesday.
The whale Smith saw was next to another whale that appeared larger.
“The whales were going by us very slowly there was a companion whale that was apparently watching out for this entangled suffering whale,” said Smith.
Capt. Dave Beezer of the Condor Express is a federally authorized rescuer.
“We have large carbon fiber poles, we have knives on the end of the poles and we are able to get to the whale and hopefully make cuts and free the line or whatever the whale is entangled in,” said Beezer.
He said it is too risky to get in the water. Beezer said it was important to point out that fisherman are not to blame. He said they don’t want to lose their gear or harm whales.
He said gray whales are bottom feeders and usually get caught in debris.
“A lot of it is just literally debris, it is garbage, it is our problem we are putting it in the marine environment and these animals are getting entangled in it, so it is definitely, we play a role in making a difference in trying to free these whales when they get into this kind of trouble.” said Beezer.
The whales are now headed toward the coast of San Luis Obispo and Monterey. This is the third entangled whale spotted off of California in the past two weeks.
Capt. Dave, as he is known, said people who spot entangled whales should stay at a safe distance of 100 yards and keep and eye on the whale until help arrives.
To notify authorized personnel call the U.S. Coast Guard or the new marine mammal hotline at 877-SOS-Whale (877-767-9425).
For more information about the count visit, Graywhalescount.org.