A Whale of a Rescue Tale

Wildlife — By Stephanie on December 15, 2008 at 9:00 am

Humpback Whale in the wild

Last week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported an amazing story!  A humpback whale got got in fishing/crab lines near the Farrallon Islands and would die without help.  The problem is that anyone that tried to free the whale was at significant risk of dying themselves.  By the simple swish of the humpback whale’s tale, a human could be struck down and may drown.

The rescued whale was a 45-50 foot female humpback whale, weighing approximately 50 tons.  Unfortunately, her winter migration towards the Baja area was stopped by crab lines, tangling her up and threatening to drown the whale.  The Marine Mammal Station of Marin County, California was notified of the whale’s plight about 18 miles off the coast near San Francisco.  Quickly, people mobilized and went to her rescue.

It was the first successful humpback whale rescue of its kind.  Remarkably, her rescuers did not hesitate to take on the risk of diving down to cut the ropes that bound the whale.  One of her heroes, a 40-year old diver said:

“I was the first diver in the water, and my heart sank when I saw all the lines wrapped around it. I really didn’t think we were going to be able to save it.”

There were over 20 crab pot lines wrapped around the beast, 240 feet long each, with weights every 60 feet.  On top of that, there were about 12 crab pots, weighing close to 100 pounds each, hanging off the whale.  No matter her size, can you imagine the heavy pull of the lines on the poor creature?  She was struggling to keep the blow-hole above the water to breathe.

When the rescuers got to the whale, there were ropes wrapped around her tail about 4 times and they were cutting into the blubber of the mammal.  The most amazing part of the story is that the whale patiently held still for more than an hour while she was cut free from the ropes.  One rescuer talked about how her huge eye watched him carefully as he worked, seemingly winking at him.  He said he would never forget that memory for the rest of his life!


Sunset humpback whale

Each of the divers willingly risked their lives to save the poor, trapped whale.  Underwater for more than an hour, they carefully untwined the rope and trimmed it so as not to harm the creature.

Once the humpback whale was cut free from her bondage, she joyfully swam in circles, coming back to gently nudge each of the men that helped her escape.  One by one, she stopped by each of the men to say a gentle “thank you.”

The divers were astonished by her reaction.  One said:

“It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that’s happy to see you.  I never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience.”

Humpback whales are incredible, gentle creatures.  Unfortunately, they are considered endangered because of whaling practices over the past 100 years that reduced their numbers by 2/3 from 15,000 in the North Pacific to only 5,000 world wide.  Humpback whales are primarily known for their unique vocalization and acrobatic breaching, as shown in the top photo above.

This whale of a rescue tale struck me especially deeply.  Not only could I imagine the distress of a fellow mammal, caught in fishing lines, but the incredible experience of the divers who rescued her is simply beyond words.  When these men bravely risked their lives and were rewarded directly by the whale that they saved, it must have been beyond comprehension.

Can you imagine doing such a selfless act for an innocent creature?  All I can say is that my immense gratitude goes out to the divers who saved the humpback whale.  The world is a better place because of people like that.  And I’m sure the lucky whale agrees.

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  1. I am so moved by this story. I am actually in tears….we just received the link to your story from someone we met at the beach (Atlantic Ocean, NY) when we were graced by the experience of seeing a humpback whale just off shore raising and slapping its huge fin as if waving at us as it circled a fishing boat before disappearing into a deep dive. The whales are such sacred creatures…may they live long, healthy lives!!!

  2. Debbie Fimrite says:

    Thank you for bringing this beautiful story back to life, the original Chronicle article was written in 2005 by my brother, Peter Fimrite.

  3. ananur forma says:

    I loved this story so much that I put it on the local online newspaper http://www.villagesouo=pknox.com thank you for letting us know about this. I lvoe hearing GOOD NEWS and sharing it. even if this happened years ago. It’s very inspiring to me that humans risk their lives to save this female whale who needed their loving support. We all need to love each other, eh?

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