Friday, February 13, 2009

Whale Thanks Rescuers

Full story at the San Francisco Chronicle.

A 50-foot female humpback whale was on the humpbacks' usual migratory route when she became entangled in the nylon ropes that link crab pots.

Rescue team members realized the only way to save the endangered leviathan was to dive into the water and cut the ropes. It was a very risky maneuver because the mere flip of a humpback's massive tail can kill a man.

About 20 crab-pot ropes 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. 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 her to struggle mightily to keep her blow-hole out of the water.

Four divers spent about an hour cutting the ropes with a special curved knife. The whale floated passively in the water the whole time, he said, giving off a strange kind of vibration.

"It felt to me like she was thanking us," James Moskito, one of the rescue divers, said Tuesday.

When the whale realized she was free, she began swimming around in circles, according to the rescuers. Moskito said she swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.

"She 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."

The daring rescue was the first successful attempt on the West Coast to free an entangled humpback, said Shelbi Stoudt, stranding manager for the Marine Mammal Center in Marin County.

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