Byline: Taylor Hill
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — Laguna Beach-based Pacific Marine Mammal Center and staff from the National Marine Fisheries Service had a busy spring, disentangling two gray whales in March.
April came with its struggles as well, with another whale becoming entangled in rope before finally being disentangled hundreds of miles away from where it was initially found; and a dolphin deciding to call Huntington Harbour “home” for a week.
While the cases had marine mammal experts concerned, both situations had happy endings. The whale, named “June,” was freed from its net — and the harbor-bound dolphin found his way out to the open ocean.
June the Whale
On April 17, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center whale disentanglement crew, along with National Marine Fisheries Services, Coast Guard, and Ocean Institute crew were dispatched on a rescue effort of an entangled gray whale off the coast of Laguna Beach, heading south.
The team located the whale and cut away nearly 120 feet of rope. After four hours of work, the team had to retreat from the effort as darkness descended.
The next day, the team reassembled, but they could not locate the whale to try and remove the remaining rope.
“We hope we get another chance to continue our efforts, and if not, we know that June is traveling with 120 less feet of debris than before and is unquestionably better off,” said Melissa Sciacca, the center’s director of development, on April 18. “That’s a good thing, and we’re glad we could help.”
A week later, the whale was spotted again off the coast of Gorda, where the National Marine Fisheries Service took over the operation. The whale was monitored on its northward route and finally was disentangled by a group of fisherman with Spud Point Crab Co. off Bodega Bay.
The team was able to remove the last bit of debris hindering the whale, and the buoys that were originally attached to the whale by Pacific Marine Mammal Center were removed. The whale was freed.
“We are so thrilled that the rescue that was started was able to be finished, and have such a happy ending,” Sciacca said. “We give congratulations to the team up north who did such a fantastic job in freeing June from that last bit of debris that was keeping her from swimming normally.”
Dolphin in Huntington Harbour
As Pacific Marine Mammal Center was handing off the gray whale disentanglement task to National Marine Fisheries personnel, the marine mammal rescue organization received a call April 27 of a common dolphin acting uncommonly.
The dolphin had reportedly become trapped in by low tide in the Bolsa Chica wetlands area of Huntington Beach, after straying from a group of dolphins that had been in Huntington Harbour.
“It is most likely that this pod was after schooling fish when they entered the harbor,” said Dean Gomersall, an animal care supervisor at the center.
During the high tide, one of the dolphins passed through the Warner Avenue bridge underpass, entering a shallower tidal flat area and becoming separated from the pod when the tide went out. Personnel from the California Department of Fish and Game, which manages the wetlands, were concerned and requested assistance from the rescue team.
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center team joined forces with local lifeguards and Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue to determine the level of distress the animal was experiencing. As the dolphin appeared healthy and was no showing signs of distress, it was decided that the safest course of action was to monitor the animal and see it would leave the area of its own accord with the oncoming high tide.
After spending a week in the wetlands area, the dolphin finally left Bolsa Chica and swam under the bridge and into adjacent Huntington Harbour May 4, Wallerstein said. He believes the 5-foot-long, 250-pound common dolphin will be fine, now that he is back on the move toward open ocean.