Early on a Sunday morning in December 2005 a female humpback whale became ensnared in crab trap lines off the coast of California near the Farallon Islands. According to marine biologists, the whale was on its customary migratory route between the Northern coast of California and Baja and was estimated to be 45 to 50 feet in length and weighed about 50 tons.
Ryan Tom, a crab fisherman out of the port of Emeryville, and Charles Martin, a fisherman from Vallejo, saw the endangered whale and called for help that was answered by charter boat captain, Mick Menigoz of Nevato. Unable to intervene safely, he contacted Marine care professionals who were able to finally reach the whale about 2:30 in the afternoon.

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Tom said, “It was just laying there on the surface, all lethargic; I didn’t even notice it was caught until we got up close and you could see all the buoys wrapped around its head.”

When Marine Mammal Center arrived on the scene six U.S. Coast Guard master divers and three Center members were taken to the Coast Guard station and were ultimately able to get close to the whale by approaching her on an inflatable Zodiac craft. “The divers at first saw four entangled commercial crab pots and a dozen visible cuts on the whale. And the whale’s tail was wrapped four or five times with the crab line and the whale’s back and left front flipper also were entangled and there were lines in her mouth,” Jim Oswald, a spokesman for the Mammal Center, said.

Rob MacKenzie of KTVU television also reported:

“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.

James Moskito, the first diver to reach the whale is a 40-year old Pleasanton resident who works with Great White Adventures. He 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 realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles and submerged for about 15 minutes before swimming away, according to the rescuers. Moskito said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one. “It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing that it was free and that we had helped it: “It stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun.”

Shelbi Stoudt, Stranding Manager for the Marine Mammal Center, said the rescue was a very risky maneuver because the mere flip of a humpback’s massive tail can kill a man.

According to the Chronicle, Moskito said that “It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that’s happy to see you: 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.”

Thanks to the writer Peter Femrite of the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay City News, and Bob MacKenzie of KTVU television for reporting this story.
SAN FRANCISCO: Watch Bob MacKenzie Report On Daring Rescue Of Humpback Whale Off Farallons A fisherman kept a video of the whale rescue and it is included in the report.