California rescuers free humpback snagged by fishing anchors

This undated photo provided by NOAA shows a humpback whale entangled in fishing line, ropes, buoys and anchors in the Pacific Ocean off Crescent City, Calif. Rescuers freed the badly tangled humpback whale Tuesday, July 18, 2017, after it had struggled for days against the weight of fishing lines, buoys and anchors dragging it to the ocean floor off California. Team leader Pieter Folkens says freeing the whale took nearly eight hours. (Bryant Anderson/NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit# 18786-01 via AP)

CRESCENT CITY, Calif. (AP) — Rescuers off California on Tuesday freed a badly tangled humpback whale caught by fishing anchors that were dragging it to the ocean floor.

A rescue team that included members of the state’s whale-entanglement teams, fishermen, academics, marine veterinarians and the U.S. Coast Guard unsnagged the whale Tuesday, after nearly eight hours of cutting off fishing lines, buoys and anchor lines wrapped around the animal, team leader Pieter Folkens said by phone, from near the rescue site.

The trapped whale was spotted two miles off Northern California on Thursday, and by Tuesday it was struggling to breathe, Folkens said.

The animal had two fishing lines running through its mouth, at least six fishing buoys wrapped around a fin and fishing anchors pulling its tail straight down, Folkens said.

Once freed, the whale circled the rescuers’ boat before swimming away.

Folkens, who said he expects the whale to survive, called that a typical response of inspecting predators. Fishermen in the rescue took it as the animal thanking them, he said.

Spokesman Michael Milstein of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the agency will try to identify the shrimping vessels believed responsible for the lines.

It was the seventh instance this year of humpbacks caught in fishing gear off the West Coast.

Conservation groups have pushed regulators to do more to compel fishing crews to reduce the number of whale entanglements, including 54 humpbacks caught in crabbing gear last year.