A juvenile gray whale that was entangled off the Washington coast was freed Wednesday, but its long-term outlook remains bleak given its serious injuries.
The whale had been entangled in fishing gear for up to a month, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.
Teams from NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard slashed fishing lines that had cut into the whale’s tissue and caused an infection. They also removed weighted gear that kept its tail 15 feet below the surface and prevented the whale from being able to swim.
The whale also suffered deteriorating skin and tail flukes and upper body bloating, which kept it from diving.
Two hours after the lines were cut the whale’s tail movement increased.
The entangled whale was originally reported Tuesday, but poor weather kept crews from safely accessing the lines.
The juvenile gray whale is at least the third whale to get entangled since the beginning of April.
Entanglement is the leading cause of whale deaths, with 300,000 reported annually. The issue is most often linked to active fishing gear, such as crab pots. Researchers estimate that 85 percent of humpback whales are currently tangled, or have been before, based on scars.