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Gray whale returns to Dana Point Harbor

May 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A wayward California gray whale believed to have left Dana Point Harbor returned Thursday morning, and authorities are unsure why. The whale, nicknamed Lily, is apparently hanging around the mouth of the harbor. The 20-ton whale was spotted just before 8 a.m. by some paddle-boarders. Rescue workers said she appeared fatigued and malnourished.

"I'm more hopeful, but I still think this whale is in very bad condition," said Dave Anderson of Captain Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari.

Anderson has been watching the gray whale from a distance as it swims just off the shore of Dana Point.

Everyone thought she had returned to sea after crews from SeaWorld cut away about 20 pounds of netting and fishing line that were wrapped around the whale's tail to its mouth area.

"I'm very sad," said Joe Robinson of San Clemente. "Everybody was just so happy that the whale had been freed from all the netting. Why is it back?"

The 30-foot whale, believed to be an adult, turned up in the harbor on Monday showing signs of distress. It looked skinny and weak and was traveling slower than a normal whale. Experts believed the whale, which should be migrating north to Alaska, was sick and was resting in the calmer waters of Dana Point Harbor.

Once the whale was freed from the netting, it headed north in the right direction for migration to Alaska. The whale may have returned because it may be too weak to travel in deeper waters.

"I think we're all concerned about the whale. It's sad but we hope she gets better and can return back to where she came," said spectator Krista McGee.

A photo shot by Anderson shows some yellow rope still wrapped around the whale's tail.

"It would have been great if we could have got it off her, but I don't think that certainly that alone would not endanger her life," said Anderson.

No one knows how long the fish netting was wrapped around the whale, or how exactly it became entangled. Experts say that it's not uncommon. In the Dana Point area alone, three whales were caught in fishnets in the past few years.

While Anderson is worried, he believes the whale is showing more normal behavior.

"She's arching her back and diving down deeper. She's staying down under the water where we can't even see her for a long time," he said.

The whale is hard to see from shore but that hasn't stopped people from coming to look.

"I think he'll get better soon, hopefully, and have time out there with the rest of the whales and swim happily underneath the sea," said spectator Alexis Soto.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has been notified. Officials said there's not much more they can do, and it's up to the whale now.


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