That at least was the takeaway for a group of boaters who were plying the waters of the Sea of Cortes on Valentine’s Day 2011 when they discovered a whale so entangled in fishing net that it could not swim.
“I came upon a young humpback whale that appeared to be dead," said Michael Fishbach, co-founder of the Great Whale Conservancy, narrating the video below. "We floated next to the whale for the next several minutes but we saw no signs of life. Suddenly the whale rose slightly in the water and forcefully exhaled.”
It was then that Fishbach donned snorkeling gear and eased into the water to see that the whale was so entangled in gill net that it was anchored down a good 15 feet. The exhausted animal, its energy nearly spent just in heaving its air hole above water in order to breathe, was on the verge of drowning.
“As I swam along the animal our eyes met,” he said in the narration to the video that his boatmates took of the rescue. “There were no words we could share, but I wanted to let the whale know that we were there to help.”
Freeing the dorsal fin, he climbed back aboard to find that his shipmates had managed to pull some of the netting aboard and cut it off. But more fins were still pinned.
For the next hour or more members of the group painstakingly cut the deadly nylon web away from the animal, using the one small knife they had onboard. A couple of times the whale broke free and started swimming, pulling them along by the net that was still attached. The group waited the animal out, then resumed their work. Eventually the final piece of netting was cut off the whale’s tale, and the animal was truly liberated from its deadly bonds.
"Free! Free to live life,” one of the boaters crowed as the whale swam away.
The event was similar to something that Makah tribal members came across about a year earlier. Back in 2010, members of the Makah Indian Nation discovered a juvenile humpback whale whose body and tail were entangled in crab pot lines.
The Valentine’s Day rescue boaters were deeply moved. And so was the whale, which proceeded to leap and frolic within sight of the boat for miles in an exuberant display of …. Gratitude? Exhilaration? Watch the video below, and decide for yourself.
Or let the little girl who witnessed the rescue for future generations call it.
“Mommy, I know what she’s doing,” the little girl’s voice says on the video. “She’s showing us that she’s all free.”