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Resuming search: Gray whale found with tangled fin, line lodged in its mouth

Mar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

Rescuers from the Marine Mammal Center and the U.S. Coast Guard are searching Wednesday for an adult gray whale found towing and tangled up in nets off the coast yesterday. 

The 40-foot California gray whale, a protected animal, was first spotted near Laguna Beach with 50-100 feet of line stuck on its left pectoral fin and another line stuck in its mouth.

Partially freed by a team yesterday, the attempted rescue marked the third trapped-whale incident the center has been involved within the past month.

The location of the animal, about 10 miles offshore, posed a high risk to the rescue team, said Melissa Sciacca, the center's director of development. Work on liberating the distressed animal, who she said seemed like a healthy adult, was suspended around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. They had hoped to continue the work on Wednesday.

“They were able to remove about 100 feet of line. However, there’s still some marine debris remaining,” said Sciacca. But, she added, more line remained tangled around its head and left pectoral fin.

Melissa Sciacca with the nonprofit Pacific Marine Mammal Center said once darkness comes, it is hard to see the whale and continue the cutting operation. 

Other agencies will take over rescue efforts should the whale swim beyond OC jurisdiction, she said. The mammal was last spotted off the coast of San Onofre.

Sciacca says the whales can travel 50 miles or more a day.

“These mammals migrate naturally up to the coast of Alaska so it could be anywhere," she said, noting that other than the marine debris, the whale appeared healthy.

In the fall, gray whales migrate from Arctic seas to lagoons in Baja California to give birth.  Most usually begin heading north again by mid-April.

That the animal is swimming south is concerning to marine experts since gray whales migrate north this time of year, notes KTLA.

Lisa Brenner can be reached via Twitter @lisa_brenner