Baby Humpback Whale Rescued from Fishing Net

Local dive masters and charter fishing guides worked together for 2 hours to rescue a baby humpback whale entangled in a 40 meter long fishing net off the coast of the Catalina Islands along Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast.  Captain Pat Franklin of the 27 foot Las Brisas charter boat, out for a half day of fishing, spotted the calf after its nearby mother breached, an act considered to show distress in whales.  Shortly thereafter the calf was spotted with the net and other assorted lines and floats wrapped around its neck.

The mother humpback breaching (all photos: Oliver Bloemeke)

Franklin, knowing that mother whales are protective of their calves and have been known to ram boats that get between them and their young, positioned his craft between the two large mammals.  Then – with the help of his onboard fishing clients and the young whale’s audible cries growing louder – he attempted to pull the trailing net free from the calf.  But this proved impossible because of the young whale’s persistent forward movement.

Baby humpback with net around its head

Realizing more human help was needed to untangle the whale; Franklin radioed the Golden Huntress, a 54 foot SCUBA dive tour boat in the area.  Dive masters Roy Mora and Emelio Lopez responded and positioned the larger boat in front of the exhausted calf while its mother, seemingly aware of the situation, swam calmly alongside.

Both divers then entered the water in front of the calf.  Mora was first to reach the young whale and grabbed onto its back.  But the frightened baby submerged and the force of the water knocked his mask off, making it impossible for him to see where to begin to untangle the mesh. Lopez, however, was able to catch the tail end of the net and climb up its length to the baby’s head.  Then, using his dive knife, he cut away the mesh.  Moments later the knotted mass floated free and mother and calf headed out to sea at a fast pace.

Remnants of the 40 meter gill net, lines, and floats

Humpback whales give birth to their young in Costa Rican waters.  The area is rich in food and the coastline has many protected bays and inlets where mothers and offspring find sanctuary.  But careless, unsustainable fishing practices threaten the humpback.

Swimming with and touching whales is illegal because of the inherent danger that these massive animals pose to humans.  The captains and crew members of both boats put themselves into a dangerous situation that is not advisable for anyone to repeat.  But their commitment to protecting the marine environment knows no boundaries, and their efforts increased the odds that this young whale will return as a mature adult to this very stretch of coastline.

For more about whale conservation efforts in Costa Rica please visit the Costa Rican Whale Coalition’s website.

6 Responses to “Baby Humpback Whale Rescued from Fishing Net”
  1. Wow, you guys did an amazing thing! I am so proud of how we are able to take care of the beauty and nature of our animals here. Its amazing how things work out and that the mom sensed you were there to help and stayed calm. Great work guys!

  2. Geoff says:

    Kudos to the captain, his crew, and the dive masters for saving the calf’s life. What an amazing story.

  3. swampfire says:

    A humpback entangled in a gill net Aug 24 off Cabo Blanco at the mouth of the gulf of Nicoya is now dead. The body is now (aug 27, 2010) near Carillio.

    • Andy Bystrom says:

      Caused by a gillnet placed illegally in the Cabo Blanco Marine Protected Area. Gillnet use, even if it’s by small scale artisanal fishermen, is not a responsible nor sustainable method of fishing. We must decrease the fishing effort, find methods that do not target species with little economic value (bycatch) and create a market for sustainably fished products.

  4. Edie Noell says:

    An absolutely enjoyable video. Success in rescue for the whale, and enjoyment in watching the entire scenario, with out the puncutation of foul, four letter words, that seem to be the entire vocabulary of people any more.
    Way to go on both regards.

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