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Baby whale tangled in rope rescued off Southern California coast

Rescue crews are seen trying to untangle a baby whale caught in rope near El Segundo on March 29, 2012.

March 29, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A California gray whale that got caught in rope while migrating north was successfully rescued Thursday.

A rescue crew came up on the whale Thursday morning. It took two boats and four hours to free the whale.

The crew started by attaching an orange buoy to the whale in order to keep track of its movements. The whale's tail fins were tangled up in yellow rope, which had the potential to embed itself in the whale's skin and cause a deadly infection. Experts think the rope was probably left over from a crab pot.

"It probably would've been doomed if we hadn't taken that line off of it," said Peter Wallerstein of the Marine Animal Rescue. "That line would have gotten deeper and deeper and deeper into the whale's flesh and being a young whale, it has a lot of growing to do."

Working so close to the entangled whale presented a unique set of challenges.

"There are lots of dangers. Line could be wrapped around your leg and you can get tossed in, it could sink the boat, just so many things could happen, so you have to know what to do and just deal with issues as they come up," Wallerstein said.

The three people aboard one of the inflatable boats were finally able to cut the rope with a specially designed knife, releasing the whale from the entanglement.

"It was exciting for us, it was a lot of hard work, but we worked as a team. From the Laguna group, to the Baywatch, it's really exciting and really satisfying to be able to tell you it was a success and the whale is now free," Wallerstein said.

The 2-year-old, 25- to 30-foot whale was first spotted off the coast Wednesday morning and was seen travelling with another whale. Those who rescued the whale are hoping it will catch up with its companion now that it has been set free.

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