This is a part of an article that appeared in the December 14th issue of the San Francisco Chronicle. It is a truly intriguing and amazing story...
A humpback whale freed by divers from a tangle of crab trap lines near the Farallon Islands nudged its rescuers and flapped around in what marine experts said was a rare and remarkable encounter. "It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing that it was free and that we had helped it," James Moskito, one of the rescue divers, said Tuesday. "It stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun."
At about 8:30 AM on Sunday, 11 December 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 it."
Moskito said about 20 crab-pot ropes, which are 240 feet long with weights 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.
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 (MMC) in Marin County described as the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback.
The divers told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter Peter Fimrite 14 December 2005, that the whale seemingly thanked them for its deliverance once the rescue operation was complete:
The whale floated passively in the water the whole time, Moskito said, giving off a strange kind of vibration. "When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me," James Moskito said. "It was an epic moment of my life."
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 one.
"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 me around 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."