Rescuers remove rope, whale returns to sea

DANA POINT, Calif. At great risk to themselves, rescuers cut away ropes and netting tangled around the whale's tail.

Free at last. Rescuers cut away ropes and netting in a dramatic effort to free a wayward whale in Dana Point Harbor.

Early Wednesday morning a gray whale was resting in Dana Point Harbor drawing hundreds of people to the shore for the third day in a row.

"It's almost like he came here for help," said Dana Point resident Nathan Jelenich.

Concern for the 30-foot mammal grew Tuesday as witnesses noticed rope wrapped around its tail. Experts believed the whale, which should be migrating north to Alaska, was sick and was resting in the calmer waters of Dana Point Harbor.

By mid-morning Wednesday experts from SeaWorld joined local rescue crews to help the whale.

"Until we got close like we did, we didn't know how serious the problem. As you can see it was pretty serious," said Dean Gomersall, /*Pacific Marine Mammal Center*/.

Fish netting and rope were wrapped around the whale.

Rescuers say a rope ran from the whale's tail to its mouth area, which explains why the whale, believed to be an adult, seemed weak and emaciated. Its long time in shallow water seemed to be taking a toll.

"This is actually whale skin here, skin was shedding off," said a rescuer.

"She was so close to the surface, her skin was probably getting burned a little bit," said another rescuer.

Crews carefully cut away the netting and by early afternoon the whale was free.

"Once we got this hunk off, she really started going," said one rescuer.

The whale captivated crowds for days, but was now on its way to open water.

"I've got a lump in my throat," said Dana Point resident Lori Skelton. "It was pretty awesome to watch."

"She's definitely heading north," said a rescuer. "If she stays that way that would be great. This is a pretty good day in Dana Point."

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.

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