A young California gray whale tightly wrapped in a fishing net and close to drowning was freed by lifeguards in a dramatic 45-minute rescue several miles from shore, officials said Sunday.

Long Beach city lifeguards received a call at 4:55 p.m. Saturday about the whale struggling to free itself from a fishing net near Oil Island Belmont, some 3 miles out from Alamitos Bay Beach, Lt. Bill Forrester said."We immediately dispatched a boat," Forrester said. "What we found was a young gray entrapped in fine mesh fishing net with weights on it that prevented the whale from wriggling free."

Lifeguards Alan Powder and Jason Hudson pulled up alongside the 20-foot whale, "thrashing about trying to get air and free itself," and started cutting the net near the whale's head, the lieutenant said.

It took 45 minutes, but Powder and Hudson, who never entered the water, were able to cut away enough of the net so that the whale could to swim away with only a small piece of net clinging to a fin.