SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A conservation group says the number of whales entangled in crab fishing gear along the West Coast dropped by nearly half this year after a lawsuit settlement ended California's commercial Dungeness crab season early.

The Center for Biological Diversity says preliminary data released by the National Marine Fisheries Service shows 18 whale entanglements were reported in the first eight months of this year, down from 42 reports during that same period in 2018. The majority of entangled whales were spotted off California.

A settlement between the conservation group and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife ended California's Dungeness crab season on April 15. The season normally ends June 30.

The accidental entanglements can gouge whales' flesh and mouth, weaken them and lead to drowning.

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