Last December a crab fisherman working the open waters off the coast of San Francisco spotted a whale that was completely entangled in the nylon ropes that link crab pots. The whale was a female humpback nearly 50 feet in length and she had rope wrapped at least four times around her tail, the back and the left front flipper, and there was a line in her mouth. Rescuers were quickly on the scene and 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. 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.
Eventually they freed the humpback, a feat that a representative of the Marine Mammal Center (MMC) in Marin County described as the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback.
When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged them and pushed them gently around thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The diver who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eyes were following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.
“It felt to me like she was thanking us, knowing that she was free and that we had helped her. She stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun. It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that’s happy to see you……….I never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience.”