Around 8 a.m. on Sunday, December 11th, 2005, in open water just east of the California’s Farallon Islands, a crab fisherman spotted a large female humpback whale entangled in crab lines. The 45 foot, 50 ton whale was exhausted from attempts to free herself, and barely had strength enough to keep her blowhole above water. What followed is an inspiring story of how quickly people were able to rescue this animal.
By early afternoon, a team of rescue divers from Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center were already beginning to treat the animal, which was being strangled and slowly dragged under by over 20 crab-pot ropes, which are 240 feet long with weights every 60 feet.
Eight divers surrounded the animal, using curved knives to hook and sever the lines, many of which encircled the whale several times. The delicate and dangerous work took two hours. At any time the whale might have panicked by diving or thrashing about, and in either case the divers could have easily been killed. But as soon as the rescue divers approached, the whale stopped struggling and stayed perfectly still. As one of the rescuers cut the lines away that had dug into her mouth, her eyes followed his every move.
When the whale realized it was free, it swam in circles around the divers several times, and then, in an unforgettable moment, swam up to each diver one at a time, nuzzling each of them gently. It was clear this highly intelligent mammal was thanking them for setting her free.
It is easy to romanticize the beauty of nature, but along with saving the condors, this is a story from the world of animals that can’t help but touch the human heart. Environmentalists may go too far; sometimes their methods may be misplaced and their priorities misguided. But without them, there would be no more condors, and there would be no more whales, and the world would be poorer for their loss. To deride environmentalists for going too far is appropriate – but at the same time thank them, for cleaner air, cleaner water, and wilderness and wildlife that endures.