Blue whale disappears while entangled by fish line

Search continues for blue whale 01:27

By air and by sea the search intensified for a blue whale off California's coast Sunday.

The whale is entangled in hundreds of feet of fishing line and hasn't been seen since late Friday. Federal marine officials say if that line isn't cut soon, the whale could die.

It was a typical whale watching trip when Harbor Breeze Cruises Capt. Danny Salas saw something extraordinary.

"The whale just wasn't acting right," he said. "It looked like it was a little tired. Swimming extremely slow."

They were the first to spot the 80-foot-long blue whale, entangled in a crab pot fishing line several miles off the California coast.

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An endangered blue whale was sighted entangled by a fish line and could die if not freed. CBS News

The Coast Guard and others rushed to help.

Peter Wallerstein is with Marine Animal Rescue and tried for hours to sever the line.

"We would have loved to cut it all off and free the whale but sometimes things are impossible and it endangers the rescuers as we're doing it," said Wallerstein. "It could ram us, it could hit us with its tail, it could do some major damage. It's a really, really dangerous situation."

As a last resort, the crew attached a larger buoy to the tangled line to make it easier to spot. But since that happened Friday night the whale has disappeared. Experts worry that the whale will have trouble eating, could get tired faster and die.

Biologist Diane Alps says saving this blue whale, an endangered species, is especially important.

"There's only about 10,000 left in the world," Alps said. "At one time there were over 300,000 and whale hunting decreased their numbers."

For now, the U.S. Coast Guard, whale watching boats and pilots are keeping a close eye on the ocean.

"Hopefully we'll get more reports and finish the job," said Wallerstein.

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    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent based in Los Angeles.