A young gray whale is struggling to survive off the coast of Marina del Rey after local rescuers removed a 10-foot line that was tightly tied to the whale’s fluke on Sept. 7.
Peter Wallerstein from Marine Animal Rescue and members of Baywatch originally came upon the lethargic young whale off the coast of Manhattan Beach and attempted to free the animal from the inhibiting entanglement that could well have been picked up in the breeding grounds of Mexico.
“When MAR arrived in our Zodiac, we observed a 20-foot gray whale with rope line tightly wrapped around its tail,” said Wallerstein. “The small whale was trailing about 10 feet of line on either side of it. We wasted no time and began our approach to attempt to free the whale.”
Wallerstein and company, who are trained to handle such circumstances, preformed the rescue from the MAR Zodiac by grabbing hold of the line and using it to bring them close to the whale’s tale. The longtime marine mammal rescuer said their main intention was to cut the line away from the animal so it had a fighting chance at survival.
“The main thing we wanted to do was at least relieve it from the life threatening problem of the entanglement which was tightly embedded in the fluke area,” Wallerstein said.
The rescue itself was no light-hearted fun-in-the-sun event. Wallerstein is cognizant of the power of an animal this size, saying that, “one smack of the tale could kill you.”
Although the whale was thin and sickly, Wallerstein is, based on how the rescue interaction went, hopeful of its recovery. He felt it was a good sign that the whale tried to initially elude them and didn’t lie lifeless as they removed the line.
“Every time it felt our presence it tried to leave and when I grabbed onto the trailing line – it did put up a fuss,” he said.
It’s assumed that the line came from a crab pot or some sort of trap picked up somewhere between Mexico and local waters. Unfortunately the deadly yoke has left the young whale in a weakened state and in a situation that is not normal for this species.
Gray whales are migratory animals and this is not the time of year grays are usually seen in this area. They typically travel from the Pacific Northwest down to Baja Mexico and back between the months of January and May, which, incidentally, is the longest migratory route of any animal. And this particular animal is especially small to even be alone.
“If it were a juvenile, it would be at least 30 feet,” said Kera Mathes, education specialist at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. “Since this one was estimated somewhere between 15 and 20 feet, it was probably this year’s calf that was born months ago.”
While Mathes is very hopeful the youngster can make its way and survive a most challenging circumstance, she feels that realistically, the odds are against it. She commented that the amount of lice covering the animal shows it’s traveling slowly – an indicator of poor health. She believes it’s likely this whale should still be feeding from its mother’s milk.
Mathes said, based on the information in front of her, that survival chances don’t appear good, but like everyone, she wants to be optimistic. The whale is heading north and now is free from a deadly entanglement – that’s positive, she noted.
“Up around Oregon there is a residential population of gray whales that do some feeding there,” she said. “Maybe, best case, it makes it up there? But based on the size and how emaciated it looked – it probably wouldn’t but maybe… it’s a long shot.”
Rescuer Wallerstein said that L.A. County Lifeguards and MAR will monitor the whale’s condition while it remains in the area. He said he was pleased that he could at least contribute to the possibility of the calf’s survival.
“It always is a tremendous relief,” he said of cutting the line attached to the whale’s fluke. “(It’s a relief) to have the opportunity and the ability to actually do something like that and have a good result. We don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be but to accomplish what we came to do is definitely rewarding.”