Boats, airplanes, and helicopters searched the Southern California coast yesterday for a blue whale that got tangled in hundreds of feet of line, and rescuers said unless they free it, the massive mammal could die. A Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter was among craft searching from Santa Barbara south to Orange County. "My gut feeling is it went south" but its actual path remained a mystery, said Peter Wallerstein, president of nonprofit Marine Animal Rescue. "We're having to look all over for it." The whale was estimated to be 80 feet long. It was spotted Friday in the channel between Santa Catalina Island and the mainland. The whale was towing a 200-foot line with an attached buoy, Wallerstein said. The whale was spouting, swimming on the surface, and occasionally diving. It appeared healthy, if a little thin, but it can't drag the line forever, Wallerstein said.
"Eventually it's going to get tired out and die," he said. The sea was too rough to try approaching the whale or cutting the line Friday evening so rescuers just attached a larger buoy to make it easier to spot. However, it slipped away overnight. Wallerstein said that while rescuers have untangled smaller gray whales caught in fishing nets, it was the first time anyone in California has seen an entangled blue whale and rescuers want to proceed cautiously. "We haven't had experience with such a large animal," he said. "One flip of the tail could kill you and knock your boat out." With many people out boating for the Labor Day weekend, rescuers are hoping to get word of the whale's whereabouts. Anyone spotting the whale should contact authorities but not approach it, Wallerstein said.