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A marine response team freed a humpback whale in Monterey Bay that was so tangled in crab fishing gear that it could not move, the Marine Mammal Center said Thursday.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife first reported the trapped whale around 11:15 a.m. last Saturday, noting that the fishing line was wrapped multiple times around the whale’s tail and cutting into its flesh.

A response team located the whale again Sunday and developed a plan to untangle and free it, but inclement weather prevented the group from accomplishing the task.

Fishing gear appears wrapped around the fluke of a humpback whale in Monterey Bay prior to the disentanglement operation. (Photo by NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit #18786-04)

On Monday morning, a team including staff from the Marine Mammal Center and the U.S. Coast Guard located the whale once again and was able to free it by 1 p.m. The whale had been trapped under three separate sets of crab fishing gear, including three crab pots and multiple attached fishing lines and buoys.

“It takes a true collaborative effort for a mission like this to succeed because there are so many moving pieces, such as weather conditions, distance from shore, and simply the ability to locate the entangled whale,” said Julia O’Hern, the operations manager at the Marine Mammal Center’s Moss Landing triage center.

The whale is more likely to survive now that it has been freed from the netting but its outlook is still uncertain, according to the Marine Mammal Center.

It is the third whale that has been freed from tangled netting along the West Coast in the past month. Another humpback whale was freed off Santa Cruz Island in mid-April and a gray whale was freed near Port Angeles, Washington, at the end of April.

“Our work responding to entangled whales is absolutely critical and it’s going to take research, innovation and partnerships with fishermen, industries and agencies to solve the more complex problems that lead to entanglements in the first place,” O’Hern said.

Members of the public can report entangled whales along the West Coast by calling 877-767-9425. Sick and injured marine mammals can also be reported to the Marine Mammal Center at 415-289-7325.