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September 4, 2006

Entangled whale freed of fishing gear

CARMEL POINT — Crews from two vessels, including a Santa Cruz outfit, worked with the Marine Mammal Center on Sunday morning to rescue a young humpback whale discovered tangled in commercial fishing gear about two miles off of Carmel Point on Sunday morning, a crew member said.

Sean Van Sommeran, with the Santa Cruz-based Pelagic Shark Research Center, called the situation "a little accident."

Van Sommeran was one of eight people on the two boats who helped free the 28-foot-whale after a smaller vessel reported the distressed animal to the U.S. Coast Guard, he said. Also involved in the rescue were researchers from Earthwatch and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, he said.

A pair of divers spent more than 2 1/2 hours pulling four large ball floats off the whale's tail, Van Sommeran said. The divers had to get out of the water at one point because killer whales circled nearby; the orcas eventually moved on and the humpback was freed around 12:55 p.m.

Van Sommeran said it's common for humpbacks to frequent the area where the entangled whale was found. It suffered some tail injures, but swam away on its own, he said.

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