Tangled humpback set free in daring rescue

WESTPORT, Wash. (CNN/KOMO/CASCADIA RESEARCH) — A daring rescue paid off when a tangled-up humpback whale was set free off the coast of Washington.

The crew on a crab boat was vital to saving the animal’s life, the humpback spotted just off the coast near the mouth of Grays Harbor on Tuesday.

The crew of the Pacific Girl knew the whale was in trouble when the captain saw it was tangled in crab pot lines.

Whale experts from Cascadia Research were called to the scene.

“We found this whale,” said John Calambokidis, who helped rescue the whale. “It looked like it was barely able to surface. It was surfacing with its head barely above water.”

The whale research and rescue group said the 40-foot whale was in danger of being dragged under by all of the fishing gear or by being wrapped so tight it wouldn’t survive much longer.

“It’s hard not to empathize with something because you see it there, and it really appears to be struggling,” said Erin Stehr, who also helped in the rescue.

The challenge was that the lines were all below the surface, and the whale wouldn’t come up long enough to grab hold.

This went on for an hour — until it happened. They were finally able to snag a line and cut the whale free.

“This one was one that looked like it was going to be really challenging — and difficult — and worked perfectly in the end, so we were quite happy with that,” said Calambokidis.

All the while, the crew of the Pacific Girl helped with the rescue.

Since this is the height of the crabbing season, that crew could have taken off and continued with its crabbing, but instead, it stayed with the operation the entire time.

It turns out, the crab pot floats and lines were from a fishing boat 50 miles to the south. That’s how far the humpback was dragging the load.

When it was all said and done, the rescue was over in a hurry.

“This whale took off fast enough that we saw it surface one series as it took off away from us once we freed it,” said Calambokidis.

They say whale flipped its fluke one time and took off, appearing uninjured.

“I think I still find myself smiling about it,” said Stehr. “It was a really incredible thing to be a part of.”

“It was one of our most perfect success stories,” said Calambokidis.

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