So far this year, there have been 30 reports of whale entanglements off the West Coast and 20 reports off California alone — double the number of total whales spotted between 2000 and 2012.
Federal officials say there’s been a surge in whale entanglements in recent years, with many gray and humpback whales becoming trapped in crab fishing lines, NBC4's media partner KPCC reports. When whales get caught in the lines, they often become unable to dive below the surface to hunt for food.
"If we don’t get that gear off of that animal, or the animal can’t shake it off on their own, it’s going to die," said Justin Viezbicke, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in California, to KPCC.
Last year there were 52 reported whale entanglements in California and NOAA believes that there will be at least as many this year, if not more. Greater whale presence, better reporting methods and heightened fishing pressure have influenced the increase in reported whale entanglements, Viezbicke said.
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NOAA has worked with communities and fishermen to increase reports of whales that get stuck, but some environmental groups feel that it hasn’t gone far enough.
At the end of the month, environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity is set to sue the the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, alleging that it hasn’t done enough to mitigate the threats that fishing presents for whales.