A Whale Of A Tale

Over the past week or so, news headlines have been dominated by exceptionally grim stories from all over the world. But this weekend, a tale of extraordinary courage and diligence grabbed our attention and reminded us of the good that people can do. Last Friday afternoon off the coast of Bar Harbor Maine, whale watchers aboard the excursion boat Atlanticat saw a whale all right, but not the way they were expecting to. Instead of frolicking in the chilly Atlantic Waters, the 40-foot humpback whale was tangled and ensnared in fishing gear. Image source: Bangordailynews.com But a rescue team was quickly assembled to help this struggling whale. Members of the Maine Marine Patrol, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Maine Department of Marine Resources, and the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts all pulled together to free the whale from his prison. According to Zack Klyver, the lead guide for Bar Harbor Whale Watching Co. (the company that owns the Atlanticat), rescuers had to cut away line that had been wrapped around the whale’s tail thirty times (likely in the humpback’s attempts to disentangle himself). The rescue attempt was finally completed around 5pm on Saturday whereupon the whale quickly swam off, presumably grateful for his freedom. The whale has been identified by the Center for Coastal Studies as Spinnaker – the organization keeps a catalog of humpback whales, and had first photographed his unique dorsal fins back in 2004. Spinnaker is about eleven years old, and is frequently seen in the area by those in the whale-watching community. Image source: Wdea.am Spinnaker didn’t escape from the incident totally unscathed: a large patch of skin on his back had been rubbed away by the lines, and when rescuers first came on the scene they noted he was breathing hard and in obvious distress. Though he seemed fine when he swam away, officials have asked whale-watching boats to keep an eye out for him and take photos of him in the next few days to make sure his wound is healing. This isn’t Spinnaker’s first run in with fishing lines. In 2006, about 20 miles from the site of this weekend’s rescue, he was freed from another entanglement. Though humpback whales are friendly with humans, it still must be a little overwhelming to be beside such a massive creature in a small boat, attempting to free it when it’s distressed and trapped. But luckily several compassionate individuals devoted their weekend to setting this gentle creature free. It’s a great, concrete example of how people can literally have a huge impact on the planet.