THE GRATEFUL WHALE
In December of 2005 a female humpback whale became entangled in a spider web of nylon crab-trap lines off the coast of San Francisco near the Farallon Islands. About twenty crab-trap ropes over two hundred feet long were wrapped four times around her tail, the back and the left front flipper, and there was a line caught in the her mouth. She fought valiantly to free herself but to no avail. The combined weight of the ropes pulled her downward, forcing her to struggle to keep her blow-hole out of the water. She could barely stay afloat.
A crab fisherman spotted the whale struggling in the water and radioed an environmental group for help. After a few hours a rescue team arrived and, after evaluating the situation, concluded that the whale was so entangled, so caught up in the maze of lines, that it would be almost impossible to free her. They decided that the only way to save her would be to dive in and attempt to untangle her by cutting the ropes. However, they realized that to do this would be dangerous because one flap of the whale’s tail could kill a rescuer.
The rescuers had such compassion for the trapped whale that they decided to take the risk and attempt to free her. Diving into the water, they cut one line after another, hoping that the whale would not panic and fight them before they got the job done . Fortunately, the wale floated passively in the water the whole time. Finally the last line was cut and the whale was freed from the entanglement.
Once she was free, rather than swim toward the open sea, the whale swam in what the rescuers described as circles of joy. It was as if she wanted to rejoice after being given this unexpected gift of love. After her joyful swim of celebration, she came back to each diver, one at a time, and gently nudged him , as though to say “thank you.” The rescuers were visibly touched by the whale’s human-like response and said what they saw was unbelievable, one of the most moving experiences they ever had.
The rescuer who cut the rope out of the whale’s mouth said her eye was following him all the time as he worked, watching his every move. The uncanny connection the whale seemed to have with him deeply touched him. He said it was an epic moment in his life and he would never be the same after such an emotional experience.
Like the whale, our lives can sometimes become so entangled with struggles and problems that we can hardly stay afloat. But what a comfort it is to have others come to our rescue, to be there to for us, willing to help free us from the strings that bind us. And, as the humpback whale taught us, showing gratitude to those who help us can make a difference in their lives as well.
-Charles M. Lee