The Coast News Group
A video depicts rescuers attempting to untangle a humpback whale off the coast of Oceanside earlier this month. Screenshot
A video depicts rescuers attempting to untangle a humpback whale off the coast of Oceanside earlier this month. Screenshot. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries Permit 24359.

Oceanside lifeguards aid in rescue attempt of entangled humpback whale

REGION — Lifeguards with the Oceanside Fire and Lifeguard Marine Safety Unit recently assisted in the rescue attempt of a humpback whale that got tangled in a piece of rope 10 miles offshore earlier this month.

The whale was first spotted about 10 miles offshore from Dana Point and was heading southbound. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notified SeaWorld Rescue in San Diego of its approach, and the rescue team quickly took action.

The SeaWorld rescue crew met with Oceanside lifeguards and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center from Orange County in Oceanside, where teams were deployed in search of the whale.

“Oceanside was the halfway point, and we have a good relationship with their lifeguard and harbor staff,” said SeaWorld San Diego Rescue Team Supervisor Jeni Smith. “They’re instrumental in helping us with sea lion rescue operations.”

According to a fire department report, Oceanside’s Marine Safety Rescue Boat quickly located the entangled whale in the early afternoon of Dec. 17. Despite the rescue team’s tracking efforts, the team had to call off the pursuit of the large marine mammal as it headed further south to Baja. 

Smith said the rescue team warned a whalewatching group of the potential visitor but has not heard whether anyone has spotted the whale.

According to Smith, the rescue team had considered putting a monitoring or telemetry buoy on the whale, but given its direction into foreign waters, the team risked losing the whale and the buoy altogether.

“You never know where a whale is going to travel; that’s why it’s a bit tricky when deciding to put a telemetry buoy on,” she said. “That’s a big decision.”

According to Smith, the SeaWorld Rescue San Diego Team receives a handful of calls each year, with some seasons busier than others due to migration patterns. Humpback whales are the subjects of several of these rescues.

For the team, safely de-tangling the whale and providing successful marine life rescue is the ultimate goal. 

After more than a week, Smith doesn’t think it will be the last time her team hears of the entangled whale that got away.

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