Effort underway to prevent whale entanglements off California coast

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Crab season ends in two days and whale experts are relieved because there have been at least 40 whale entanglements off the coast of California since January.

These whales are getting caught in crab and lobster fishing gear, but now there is an effort underway to help avoid this.

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No one is blaming anyone since they have to make a living, but now there is collaboration between crab fisherman and whale experts, with the help and guidance of Sacramento.

A young blue whale became entangled off the coast near Orange County after it got trapped by a fishing line attached to two floats used on crab pots.

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Pieter Folkens is with the California Whale Rescue. "The jaw bones separate from the skull and the line gets caught all the way in the back and then when you have several hundred pounds of crab pots pulling back on that, it cuts into the back of their mouth," he said.

The line and the weight of the floats impede the whale's ability to feed.

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There have been 40 entanglements since January and the National Marine Fisheries Services said this year the numbers are running ahead of last years.

Several factors have contributed to this problem. "The number of whales have increased and there have been good production years," Folkens said.

It also didn't help that the crab season was delayed because of an algae outbreak. "Since we started so late there was so much more gear in the area so late and that's when the natural migration of the whales started to show up," crab fisherman Jim Anderson said.

By law, crab fishermen must begin removing their pots after June 30 when the season ends. While boat owners are very responsible, some pots get lost.

Now, Sacramento lawmakers are considering allowing more crab fishermen to collect other fishermen's so-called derelict pots and get paid for it. "We were out just driving around on our own and this way we have designated number of boats from different ports and they go out and look for the gear," Anderson said.

Both sides believe retrieving these pots more efficiently will save dozens of whales.

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