Although we’ve developed all sorts of ways to converse with animals—who doesn’t love seeing Koko the gorilla use sign language?—we still have our fair share of miscommunications. Yes, even when we think we understand their intentions, animals might surprise us!
But when a man saw a whale surface near the Farallon Islands off the coast of California, he was absolutely positive that the creature was trying to tell him that something was wrong. That’s when he got closer… and witnessed a sight he’d never forget.
In December 2005, Mick Menigoz, a boat captain and organizer of whale watching tours in California, learned of a humpback whale in a serious predicament. He loved whales and wanted to help. The question was: what could he do about it?
Mick knew that he was going to need some backup. He already had his boat, Superfish, at the ready, as well as his own crew of divers to assist. But his rag-tag team couldn’t do it alone. So he reached out to the experts at the Marine Mammal Center…
The Marine Mammal Center was a nonprofit organization based in Sausalito, California. Because its staff had more than four decades rescuing marine mammals, Mick knew he was at the right place!
The Marine Mammal Center’s goal was to release hurt animals back into the ocean. While the majority of its patients were sea lions and seals, it saved over 20,000 marine mammals—including whales. In other words, these were just the people that Mick needed.
With the team of volunteers in place, everyone set off for the Farallon Islands. Located near the coast of San Francisco, California, this was where crabbers had last spotted the troubled whale. Would they be too late?
Once there, the team saw what they were dealing with: a 50-foot humpback whale floating near the surface. Evidently, she had been taking what should have been a normal migratory route from Baja California to the coastline of northern California…
Something clearly wasn’t right, though. Ordinarily, a marine mammal like this would only remain at the surface for a moment to catch her breath. Lead diver James Moskito (pictured) and the rest of the rescuers knew that this whale was in trouble.
Apparently, the whale had become caught in something known as “blue steel,” an incredibly strong rope used by fishermen. In this case, crabbers had used it to attach traps to buoys at the bottom of the ocean. For the whale, however, it was quite deadly.
The roughly 250-foot-long ropes were used to hold massive crab traps on the ocean floor, and they were taking a toll on the humpback whale. She’d become so tangled up in the “blue steel” that she’d lost almost all mobility!
For his part, James felt a connection to the imperiled mammal right away. In fact, he noticed that whenever the animal peeked above the surface of the water, she appeared to be asking for help. “I remember it like it was just a few minutes ago,” he said.
Somehow, the poor humpback whale knew help was on the way. “The whale came up on a breath, came up, put its eye above the surface, looked at me–I could tell it was looking at me–and just stayed there,” James recalled.
As the divers closed in, they were able to see just how much pain the whale must have been in. The ropes had already torn off sizable bits of blubber, and the more she struggled, the worse her predicament became.
There was little time left to help the whale survive the fight for her life, so James and a few crew members dove as deep as they could to see what could be done beneath the surface. That was when they realized the situation was even more dire than they thought.
“I was the first diver in the water, and my heart sank when I saw all the lines wrapped around it,” James remembered as he described the scene underwater. “I really didn’t think we were going to be able to save it.”
Not only did the divers notice the rope twisting around her tail, but a line was running through the whale’s mouth. Worse, she was constantly pulled down by the weight of a 3,000-pound anchor beneath her. All she could do was try to keep her blowhole above the surface.
Still, gentle as she was, the divers had to be careful. Even a strong flick of the creature’s tail could have done some serious damage! Yet, for as dangerous and stressful as the task was, compassion was the key to the team’s success…
What followed were five arduous hours of attempting to rescue this whale. All the while, she remained remarkably calm. Finally, after so much delicate and hard work, she was free! Yet, the most remarkable thing was yet to come…
“Next I know, I have this whale coming right up at me… it was like a slow-moving bus,” James said. “It literally stopped six inches away from my chest, and then nudged me forward, like your household dog does when he wants to be pet.”
This was no coincidence. Clearly, the whale knew exactly what she was doing. “It turned on its side and put its eye right next to me, and looked,” James continued. “I started petting her again, so it was definitely a feeling of affection.” It was like she was saying thank you!
Mick, James, and all of the other rescuers must have been so proud of what they’d pulled off! In fact, the Marine Mammal Center called it the the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback. See it all unfold for yourself below!
That whale knew that the divers were only there to help. It’s like they were reading each other’s minds!
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