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Crews Free Entangled Humpback Whale off California Coast

May 19, 2014 12:05 PM EDT

On Thursday, marine biologists working off the California coast managed to free a humpback whale that was entangled in a steel rope attached to a 300-pound crab trap.

The whale had been caught up in the fishing line for more than two weeks and sustained life-threatening injuries due to the incident, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

After traveling more than 600 nautical miles to end up in the Santa Barbara Channel, the adolescent whale was found April 28 dragging the gear somewhere near Crescent City.

Crab pots are traps used by commercial fishermen to catch the crustaceans, and the drag from both the trap and fishing line had cut deeply into the whale's body, according to Noozhawk, as well as prevented the mammal from diving for food.

Among the experts working tirelessly to free the whale were the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, the NOAA Fisheries and West Coast Region and Protected Resources Division, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and a cluster of other commercial organizations.

Rescuers at first were able to remove the crab trap and some of the line, but strong winds and 10-foot seas in April forced the crew to shore before they could finish - but not before they placed a satellite tracker on the whale.

They later went back to finish the job when the seas had calmed.

According to the AP, the rope was wrapped so tightly around the animal's tail that the tail would have been severed, killing the whale, if the rope had not been removed.

"The whale was absolutely exhausted and had been through so much," Peggy Stap of Moss Landing-based Marine Life Studies, one of the rescuers, said.

Despite the whale's exhaustive efforts, Stap expects that it will survive the ordeal and make a full recovery.

"They have a remarkable ability to heal. It wouldn't have made it if we didn't remove the rope," Stap said. "It was so gratifying to see that whale swim free."

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