(Click on image to enlarge).
The current controversy about Japan’s resumption of whale hunting in the Southern oceans in the guise of scientific research brings to mind an incident which took place in December 2005 off the coast of san Francisco.
A female humpback whale, the type of whale commonly slaughtered in the Southern oceans, had become trapped in ropes securing crab pots. The whale was about 18m in length, female, and so badly entangled that it was determined that only divers cutting the ropes would be able to free her, a risky proposal in dealing with a creature weighing an estimated 50 tons. It was believed that the whale had become tangled while travelling her usual migration route.
One of the first divers on the scene was one James Moskito (true, that is his name).
The following is an account from the time, verified by snopes.com as a truthful account:
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.
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 it to struggle mightily to keep its blow- hole out of the water.
Moskito and three other 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.
"When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me, watching me," Moskito said. "It was an epic moment of my life."
When the whale realised 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 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."
Humpback whales are known for their complex vocalizations that sound like singing and for their acrobatic breaching, an apparently playful activity in which they lift almost their entire bodies out of the water and splash down.
Before 1900, an estimated 15,000 humpbacks lived in the North Pacific, but the population was severely reduced by commercial whaling. In the 20th century, their numbers dwindled to fewer than 1,000. An international ban on commercial whaling was instituted in 1964, but humpbacks are still endangered. Between 5,000 and 7,500 humpbacks are left in the world's oceans, and many of those survivors migrate through the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Whale experts say it's nice to think that the whale was thanking its rescuers, but nobody really knows what was on its mind.
"You hate to anthropomorphise too much, but the whale was doing little dives and the guys were rubbing shoulders with it," Menigoz said. "I don't know for sure what it was thinking, but it's something that I will always remember. It was just too cool."
Snopes.com does point out that the email containing the above account, which has been widely distributed, also contains the above photograph, but that that is not the whale referred to in Moskito’s account. Instead it depicts the encounter between marine photographer Marco Queral and an 18m female humpback whale in the South Pacific in August 2009.
Another Marco Queral pic: