Humpback whale caught in illegal fishing net rescued in Baja (VIDEO)

Baja California – A humpback whale was rescued Friday after being injured and entangled in illegal netting used by poachers in a federally-protected marine refuge in Mexico’s upper Gulf of California.

The dramatic rescue by Sea Shepherd, a marine wildlife conservation nonprofit, was caught on video. The footage shows the whale struggling against the netting, as biologists work to free it. “It’s a sad reminder of why it’s so important for us to protect the refuge against illegal fishing,” said Octavio Carranza, captain of Sea Shepherd’s M/V Farley Mowat, a former 110-foot Coast Guard cutter.

The nonprofit said it was alerted Friday morning to the whale in life-threatening distress in the Vaquita Refuge, a federally-protected zone off the eastern coast of Baja California.

The organization is on the front lines of protecting Mexico’s endangered vaquita porpoise from illegal poaching.

Only a handful vaquita are believed to remain alive in the refuge. The illegal netting is used in the area to poach totoaba, also a protected fish species whose swim bladders sell for a high price on the Chinese black market.

Gillnet is the primary threat to the vaquita, a species on the brink of extinction, according to biologists with Sea Shepherd.

The net that entangled the whale spanned several hundred meters in length and was tightly wrapped around the whale’s head, body and tail, impeding its ability to move.

Biologists with Sea Shepherd said when they arrived the animal was alive, but exhausted and had suffered numerous injuries to its pectoral fin and tail. It was unable to dive under the strain of the net. The emergency response lasted for several hours, with rescue efforts continuing until sunset.

Around 6:00 pm, the net was removed from the animal’s head and body and the whale was able to dive deep, disappearing from view. Netting remained wrapped around the animal’s tail, potentially threatening its long-term survival, biologists with Sea Shepherd said.

“Today we witnessed firsthand just how cruel gillnets can actually be,” said Jacqueline Le Duc, captain of Sea Shepherd’s M/V Sharpie. “These gillnets are lethal killers, and Sea Shepherd’s presence here in the Upper Gulf of California has never been more important.”

Source: San Diego Union Tribune

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