A whale entangled in spot prawn gear off the Santa Barbara coast is believed to have freed itself.
Rescue groups were notified late last week about the entangled whale, which could be seen from Platform Hidalgo.
Pieter Folkens with the West Coast Entangled Whale Response Network says a helicopter flyover confirmed the entanglement of a humpback calf. Another whale, believed to be the calf’s mother, could be seen in the area and appeared to be agitated, according to Folken, who says a third whale, possible an escort or another female, was also seen.
Folkens says other flyovers confirmed the entanglement, so a response was organized Friday. Rescuers met in the Santa Barbara area Saturday and were prepared to head out to the area Sunday before being notified the calf could no longer be seen.
Fearing the calf may have died, a friend of the fisherman who owned the spot prawn gear the whale was entangled in went out to the area to pull the gear up and see if the calf was attached to the other end.
Folkens says the gear was complete and in good shape, which means the line was never broken and it’s likely the animal was able to release itself.
Folkens says the entanglement happened shortly after the gear was set in the middle of last week, adding because of this, they are able to get a good estimate on how long the calf was entangled to help evaluate possible injury and setbacks.
Entanglements right now are down due to waters being cooler, according to Folkens. He says humpbacks are feeding off of food that’s not as close to shore, so they are not coming into contact with fishing gear as often.
Folkens adds that fishermen statewide are coopering “to a very high degree” with scientists and whale rescue groups and he commends them for their efforts when entanglements happen.
Folkens says his organization is trying to preserve fishery as much as whales.
He says the main groups involved with organizing the potential rescue over the weekend were the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute (CIMWI), along with the West Coast Entangled Whale Response Network.