Rescuers tried in vain Monday to free a blue whale from a life-threatening tangle of fishing line off the coast of Southern California.
A whale-watching cruise noticed the distressed 60-foot whale Monday morning about 3 miles off Dana Point.
"The tail was being held down by [fishing] traps hanging down below the whale," said rescuer Tom Southern of Capt. Dave's Dolphin and Whale Safari.
Officials believe the same animal was spotted Sunday some 30 miles off the San Diego shoreline, according to Michael Milstein with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"It's trailing the same type of gear," Milstein said.
Rescuer David Anderson, who owns an Orange County whale-watching business, said 200 feet of thin line from a crab pot was wrapped either around a flipper or the whale's mouth.
A fisherman called authorities about the whale near San Diego, but it was too far away to attempt a rescue, Milstein said. The whale was closer to shore Monday and crews tried for hours to cut it loose.
"We got pretty close," said Southern. "I would say we were within 6 inches."
Repeated efforts to cut the line with a knife-tipped pole failed. The whale finally dove out of sight shortly before night fall.
"The whale decided he had enough, vanished," Southern said.
A transponder buoy attached to the whale was cut off during the rescue attempt. Anderson said his boat will look out for the animal Tuesday, which will become exhausted and die if the line isn't removed. Southern agreed the outlook was grim.
"If they find the whale tomorrow, great, it has a chance, but the odds of it surviving are very small," he explained.
Whale entanglements have been a growing problem in California, according to Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. Even though crab season ends this week, data from last year showed entanglements continuing all summer and peaking in September, Monsell said.
"We're concerned that lost gear is contributing to this problem," she said.
Reports of West Coast whale entanglement this year are on pace to break records for the third straight year, she added.
The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.