Teams free close to a third of whales found entangled in fishing gear, debris off U.S.

A higher than average number of whales got tangled up in fishing gear, lines and debris off the United States in 2017, the most recent year of data. In all, NOAA Fisheries reported 76 confirmed cases of large whales found entangled. That's according to a national report the agency released last month.

Most were alive when they were last seen. Six were dead.

Teams either fully or partially freed 21 of the whales from the gear or debris, said Sarah Wilkin, NOAA Fisheries' national stranding and emergency response coordinator.

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"Entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris is a very serious conservation and welfare issue," she said, during a recent call with reporters. "It can kill or seriously injure large whales."

Those figures come from a national report on large whale entanglements. It was released in December by NOAA Fisheries, which documents entanglements as part of its efforts to help with recovery and conservation of protected marine species.

The report showed documented cases happened off almost all U.S. coasts, including 31 off the West Coast. Most were spotted off California, including one case near Ventura County.

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