An old gray whale that was swimming slowly around Dana Point harbor appeared to head back to sea, thanks to the rescue efforts of a Sea World team.
But on Thursday morning, authorities said the whale returned to water near the harbor.
The disentanglement team worked for four hours Wednesday to remove two ropes and more than 100 pounds of fishing net and other gear, the Associated Press reported:
Wildlife biologist Joe Cordaro with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Long Beach says the whale started swimming easier after the nets were removed. He says the whale picked up speed and returned to the ocean.
The animal was seen around the Dana Point Harbor during the last few days. On Wednesday, a crowd of people gathered along the coast to watch the whale spout water near a roped off swimming area.
Gray whales migrate north in April and this one is a straggler, said Ocean Institute biologist Tim Sullivan.
The Harbor Patrol tried to scare the whale out of the harbor earlier this week by banging pipes together underwater.
It initially appeared to work, but then the whale reappeared Wednesday. Rescue workers said she was fatigued and malnourished.
"It's up to the whale now," said wildlife biologist Joe Cordaro of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Long Beach. "We are not going to do anything with the whale unless it happens to beach itself or something."
There are three possibilities, said Capt. Dave Anderson of Capt. Dave's Dolphin & Whale Safari, one of the disentanglement team members who helped Lily Wednesday. She is either recuperating by relaxing in the harbor, foraging for food or is so weak, she is dying.
"We will put a watch on her," Cordaro said. "We'll keep boaters 100 feet away and helicopters above 1,000 feet, but we won't close the harbor or anything. Basically, we're baby-sitting until it decides to leave for good."
Biologists will wait out the whale, he said, "no matter how long it takes." He pointed out that last year, a gray whale stayed in the Santa Barbara Channel for three weeks before resuming its migration to Alaska.
Cordaro said they had reports of a pod of killer whales off San Pedro.
"It's hard to know if a whale can sense that or not. It's a ways from Dana Point and it would be a threat. But we can't get into the head of that whale," he said.
If the animal is fatigued and it rests inside the harbor, "the fatigue should take care of itself," Cordaro said.
"Hunger should be driving this animal now. We don't know why it is preferring to stay in the harbor. Hunger should turn it around and get it going," he said.
Rescue workers cannot feed the whale.
"It feeds on organisms that live in mud. We can't feed an animal that size in the wild. Gray whales probe through the mud with their snouts, stirring up the mud and organisms'," he said.
They then sift out the mud and eat the organisms.
Biologists generally believe gray whales fast on their northern migration.
"But they are opportunistic. If they find a quantity of food, they'll feed. We refer to it as snacking," Cordaro said.
Attempts to get her out of the harbor could add stress and use up energy the animal may not have.
Besides, Cordaro said, "It won't do any good to chase her out because she's already been out."