Whale near La Push cut free from fishing gear but badly hurt

LA PUSH — A juvenile gray whale that was found entangled in fishing gear was fighting for survival Thursday, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official said.

Crews on Wednesday cut the injured whale from the lines that had ensnared it, including a main line that was holding the whale’s tail about 15 feet below the surface.

“That’s the good news,” said Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region spokesman.

“The bad news is that the whale was severely injured by the lines cutting into its tissue, which had become infected and bloated, making it difficult for the whale to dive as normal. So its chances of survival are questionable.”

The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the entangled whale more than 15 miles west of La Push on Tuesday.

Crews with Cascadia Research Collective and SR3, a pair of nonprofits that specialize in whales and whale disentanglements, were on scene Tuesday and Wednesday with assistance from the Coast Guard.

“We appreciate the hard work of Cascadia Research Collective, SR3 and the U.S. Coast Guard in doing their best to give the whale the best chance of survival possible,” Milstein said in a email.

“Now it’s largely up to the whale in terms of recovering from the injuries.”

Crews were not on scene Thursday because of poor weather.

A team of veterinarians determined Wednesday that the whale had a good enough chance of survival to warrant an attempt to disentangle it.

“They went back out Wednesday after taking to the vets,” Milstein said in a telephone interview.

“The whale was still in tough shape. They were able to cut the line holding the tail down and were able to remove some of the lines from body, but some of them were so deeply embedded that they could not get them out.”

As the crews left, the whale had begun to move its tail.

“The fact that it was sort of weighted down and motionless for so long obviously put it into difficult shape, but I think the fact that it did start moving again is a hopeful sign,” Milstein said.

“The Coast Guard is going to keep an eye out for it, but we don’t have any further work planned at the moment.”

NOAA Fisheries has reported four whale entanglements off the Washington coast within the last month, a typical number for an entire year, Milstein said.

NOAA officials are working with fishermen to reduce the risk of entanglements, he added.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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