Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Extremely Large and Incredibly Close

As a child I enjoyed reading The Happy Little Whale, a Golden Book starring a sperm whale, and I’ve harbored a soft spot for the ocean giants ever since.

Not surprisingly, when news hit the mainstream press last year of an underwater whale rescue, I paid close attention. Turns out it wasn’t a whale, but a whale shark. No matter, the creature was in trouble.

Off the coast of Mexico, a group of vacationers were diving and enjoying the playful antics of the indigenous sea life. However, getting up close and personal with ocean residents means seeing a dark side as well (the dark side of humans, that is). One whale shark showed scarred and grooved skin from a boat propeller; another was hampered by a tuna net that had wrapped like a rope around the shark and lodged into his/her skin and cut deeply into a fin. When professional divemaster Daniel Zapata noticed it, he knew he had to help.

With a knife, a little courage, and a lot of compassion, Zapata went to work on the net—swimming above the polka-dotted leviathan and cutting him/her free at the same time. Here’s a short version of the scene (Zapata’s company, Solmar V, offers a longer version of the dive; the whale shark appears around 4:24):

When searching for links to this rescue, I found another one—this time with a humpback whale. Michael Fishbach, cofounder of the Great Whale Conservancy, was monitoring whales in the Sea of Cortez on Valentine’s Day of 2011, accompanied by family and friends. Near their boat was a young, presumably dead humpback whale. Dead, that is, until she let go a distressed exhale.

Fishbach dove into the water for a closer look and found the whale entangled in nylon fishnets, like those used by the local fishers (doesn’t this make you think of all the plastic debris in our waters and how it affects wildlife, large or small?). Her fins were pinned to the sides of her body and her tail was weighted down about 15 feet. She was immobilized, frightened, and dying.

Fishbach radioed for help, but was told IF anyone could get there, it would be at least an hour before they arrived. Fishbach and his mates knew that would be too late, so they threw themselves into action—some worked in the water, others worked from the boat, all cut and pulled and disentangled. This rescue took a LOT of courage and the compassion of MANY people (watch to the end of the video and you’ll see the rescuers’ reward for their care), for one unexpected move from this huge patient could spell disaster for the humans:

I don’t know about you, but I am so-ooo-oo grateful there are folks like Fishbach and Zapata in the world—folks who have big hearts and the chutzpah to take action. I’m guessing that, on some level, those two ocean giants feel the same.

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