At about 8:30 AM
on Sunday, December 11 2005, a crab fisherman working the open waters east
of the Farallon Islands, about 18 miles off the coast of San Francisco,
spotted a whale that had become entangled in the nylon ropes that link
crab pots. The whale was a female humpback, about 45 to 50 feet in
length and weighing an estimated 50 tons, who had likely become snared
while traversing the humpbacks' usual migratory route between the Northern
California coast and Baja California.
A rescue team was
hastily assembled, and by 2:30 PM divers had evaluated the situation and
determined that the imperiled whale was so badly entangled in the crab
pot lines that the only way to save her was to dive beneath the surface
and cut the nylon ropes that were ensnaring her. As James Moskito,
one of the rescue divers, reported:
||"I was the first diver
in the water, and my heart sank when I saw all the lines wrapped around
it," said Moskito. "I really didn't think we were going to be able to save
Moskito said about 20 crab-pot ropes,
which are 240 feet long with
every 60 feet, were wrapped around the animal. Rope was wrapped at
least four times around the tail, the back and the left front flipper,
and there was a line in the whale's mouth.
The crab pot lines were cinched
so tight, Moskito said, that the rope was digging into the animal's blubber
and leaving visible cuts.
At least 12 crab traps, weighing
90 pounds each, hung off the whale, the divers said.The combined weight
was pulling the whale downward, forcing it to struggle mightily to keep
its blow-hole out of the water.
Four divers spent
about an hour cutting the nylon ropes with a special curved knife, a risky
undertaking since a single flip of the gargantuan mammal's tail could easily
have killed any of them. Eventually they freed the humpback,
a feat that a representative of the Marine
Mammal Center in Marin County described as the first successful attempt
on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback.
The divers told a
Francisco Chronicle reporter that the whale seemingly thanked them
for its deliverance once the rescue operation was complete:
||When the whale realized
it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers.
Moskito said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next
"It felt to me like it was thanking
us, knowing that it was free and that we had helped it. It stopped
about a foot away from me, pushed
a little bit and had some fun. It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog
that's happy to see you," Moskito said. "I never felt threatened.
It was an amazing, unbelievable experience."
Whale experts say it's nice to
think that the whale was thanking its rescuers, but nobody really knows
what was on its mind.
"You hate to anthropomorphize too
much, but the whale was doing little dives and the guys were rubbing shoulders
with it," Mick Menigoz said. "I don't know for sure what it was thinking,
but it's something that I will always remember. It was just too cool."