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Rescuers free humpback whale entangled in fishing gear near Monterey

A rescue team helped free a young humpback whale that was tangled in fishing gear south of San Francisco days after a fisherman first spotted it, a conservation group said Tuesday.

On Friday, the team, in a small inflatable boat in Monterey Bay, attached five large hot-pink buoys to the fishing line to slow the whale and keep it near the surface, said Peggy Stap, founder and executive director of Marine Life Studies, a Northern California conservation group.

The team then cut the fishing line running across the whale’s back, all the gear fell away, and the animal swam free, she said.

A fisherman first saw the whale on Dec. 9, but when the U.S. Coast Guard responded, it was already gone, Stap said.

The whale was spotted again two days later, but conservation groups and the Coast Guard couldn’t find it after an all-day search.

Stap said another boat spotted it Friday, when a Marine Life Studies team was nearby and able to stay with the giant mammal until rescuers arrived.

The number of whale entanglements is growing, and officials are trying to reduce them. This year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife pushed back the commercial Dungeness crab season by a month to lower the risk of whales getting tangled in fishing lines.

In March, rescuers worked to untangle a gray whale that got caught in a buoy net near Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. In 2015, more than 60 whales were found entangled in fishing gear in the waters off California, a 400% spike over what was then normal.

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