In what marine experts label a rare and remarkable encounter, a female humpback whale showed gratitude to the humans who rescued her.
On December 11, 2005, the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County was notified that a whale was tangled in fishing lines near the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. By that afternoon, the rescuers had located the whale but her situation did not look good.
Several crab pot lines were wrapped so tightly around her they were cutting her body. In addition to the lines, rope was wound more than four times around her tail and the back and left front flipper. There was also was a line in the whale's mouth.
“My heart sank when I saw all the lines wrapped around it," said Mick Moskito, the first diver in the water. "I really didn't think we were going to be able to save it."
The team of rescuers realized the only way to save this massive humpback (which measured 45-50 feet) was to dive into the water and cut the ropes. This method was dangerous for the divers, because a slight flip from the huge tail of a humpback can easily kill a human.
But this female humpback didn’t react adversely to the four divers as they began to cut the ropes and lines away from her. She simply floated as they worked, and one diver said she gave off a strange vibration as they were freeing her from the lines.
"When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me," Moskito stated. "It was an epic moment of my life."
After the whale was free, she began to swim in circles, and then approached the divers. She swam to one of the divers and nuzzled him. She then swam to each of the other divers in turn, giving them an affectionate nudge.
Diver Moskito related, "It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that's happy to see you. I never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience."
Humpbacks are known for their playful splashing maneuvers and for their intricate vocalizations…but they are not known for one-on-one interactions with humans. An expert from the Marine Mammal Center stated that friendly humpbacks have approached boats near Baja, California, but “"for the most part, they don't like to be interacted with."
Scientists hesitate to assume that the whale was really thanking her rescuers—they say we can have no idea what was going on in her mind. But science doesn’t always have the answer to everything…to not consider that the whale’s rare behavior took place in a rare situation is simply ignoring the facts of what occurred.
This migrating female whale was caught up not only in fishing lines, but was also caught in a dangerous situation and one that was probably new to her. She was unable to help herself and had to rely on humans to rescue her.
In this unusual circumstance in which she had to depend on humans for her well-being, she reacted in an equally unusual manner. She made physical contact with each diver who helped her, a behavior that has never been recorded in a humpback whale. And this rescued whale’s actions speak more loudly than any scientific opinion.
Scientists can categorize her behavior in whatever manner they choose, but the divers who received her playful nudges after rescuing her can only view it as gratitude.
Source – San Francisco Chronicle