A humpback whale is swimming freely once again, thanks to a team of professional untanglers.
Earlier in September, according to SeaWorld and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a boater near Carlsbad, California, notified the authorities about a humpback whale they spotted in the area tangled in gear.
On Sept. 26, a SeaWorld San Diego Rescue team responded to the report and went to work trying to free the whale from the gear painfully wrapped around its body.
"The whale wound up with a line wrapped over the body about halfway between the dorsal fin and blow hole. Off of this tight wrap was a ball of knotted line and 5 buoys that were dragging along on the right side of the whale. This drag was causing a significant laceration in front of the left pectoral flipper as the line was slowly being pulled into the whale," Justin Viezbicke, a California marine mammal stranding response and large whale entanglement response coordinator with NOAA, told PEOPLE.
The entanglement occurred in Oregon weeks ago, according to Viezbicke, so it is unclear how the humpback ended up with the haul of uncomfortable gear. When the whale reached California, it was clear the marine mammal needed help.
SeaWorld San Diego Rescue, NOAA, the Oceanside Harbor Police Department, California State Parks, and Del Mar Lifeguards all worked together to safely relocate the entangled whale to the waters of San Elijo State Park.
In calmer waters, the SeaWorld San Diego Rescue team and two trained responders from NOAA evaluated the whale and how to help the animal.
SeaWorld San Diego
"Our team was able to safely determine where best to make a cut and then executed the plan and successfully removed all the gear with one cut," Viezbicke said of the rescue.
With the gear removed, the humpback whale swam away unencumbered.
"The SeaWorld Rescue team would like to thank the community, the public, and various state agencies that came together to help save this animal from a life-threatening entanglement," SeaWorld shared in a statement about the rescue mission.
Unfortunately, whale entanglements are "pretty common," per Viezbicke, and have a variety of causes. Whales can become entangled in fishing gear, anchor lines, marine debris, and more. Helping free the whales that find themselves wrapped in extra weight is only part of the solution.
"Behind the scenes, we work with managers and fishers to find solutions to prevent entanglements from occurring in the first place. Entanglement response is only a bandage to the problem while changes within fisheries and fishing gear types are the solutions," Viezbicke said.