When a humpback whale was entangled in crab-trap lines off the coast of California, brave volunteers intervened to rescue it from its manmade prison. Once freed, the enormous whale appeared to thank its rescuers in a moving gesture between man and animal (video below).
The humpback whale was ensnared by at least 12 crab traps about 18 miles off the coast of San Francisco, according to SF Gate. The 240-foot-long ropes had wrapped around the animal's tail, two of its flippers and its mouth.
James Moskito, a professional diver, was among the volunteers who endeavored to free the whale. He was shocked to discover how thoroughly trapped the creature was.
"I was the first diver in the water, and my heart sank when I saw all the lines wrapped around [the whale]," Moskito told SF Gate. "I really didn't think we were going to be able to save it."
The traps weighed 90 pounds apiece, anchoring down the humpback whale and prompting it to struggle to break the surface of the ocean to breathe through its blowhole. The ropes were painfully cinched against the whale, cutting into its body.
"Some of the individual ropes went into the blubber two or three inches deep," Moskito recalled, according to Shareably. "I put my hand on the whale and I told the whale, 'OK. This is gonna hurt.'"
Moskito's task was twofold; his effort to free the animal was complicated by the risk that its sheer size could kill him with one false move. Fortunately, the whale proved to be surprisingly cooperative and gentle.
"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."
After five tense hours, the whale was finally freed. Before swimming away, the behemoth swam alongside its rescuers, reportedly nuzzling each delicately with its 50-ton body.
"It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing that it was free and that we helped it," Moskito said. "It stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun."
Mick Menigoz, who had organized the rescue, is not sure that the whale was actually expressing gratitude but found the gesture touching all the same.
"You hate to anthropomorphize 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."
With its flipper upturned towards the sky as if bidding its rescuers farewell, the whale swam away to continue its migration.