Posted by: The ocean update | November 1, 2018

Fisherman jumps on entangled whale’s back, cuts it free (California, USA)

Sam Synstelien jumped on the entangled humpack’s back and cut the rope. Photo: Screenshot / @fv_persistence On Instagram

Thursday, 1st November, 2018(Alix Martichoux). These commercial fisherman spend most of their days trapping sea creatures, not freeing them.

But when Nicholas Taron and Sam Synstelien were headed back into Morro Bay after a day of work, they noticed something unusual: a humpback whale in distress, tangled in rope attached to a buoy.

“[The whale] was just swimming in counter-clockwise circles,” Taron told KNTV. “You could tell he was stressed and being held to the bottom.”

They reported the entangled whale to the U.S. Coast Guard, who told them they wouldn’t be able to respond for hours.

So Taron and Synstelien took matters into their own hands.

Synstelien leapt onto the massive whale’s back as it struggled, spouting and even slamming its tail against the boat. Taron caught the whole rescue on camera, as he shouted at Synstelien to free the humpback before it dove too deep for them to do anything.

In the end, they were victorious. You can hear the two celebrating after Synstelien successfully cut the rope and the humpback takes a deep dive.

But things could have ended up a lot worse, for both the rescuers and the whale.

If you see an entangled whale, you should immediately call (877) SOS-WHALE (877–767–9425) or contact the Coast Guard on VHF CH-16 (Ed Sibylline : what they did !).

Comment from Justin V :

This was in late September off Morro Bay and is of concern because the danger is very real and entangled whales have killed people including someone just last year. In the age of media hysteria and people see people do mentality we don’t want people thinking this is the right / safe thing to do. I completely understand the concern from the fishermen when they saw the whale and am glad that they were able come out of the situation safely. Here’s the other concern— we don’t have much info on what the whale was entangled in and how it was entangled so can’t assume this whale was completely freed of life threatening entanglement and ultimately it may still die from this entanglement despite the efforts. It’s very common for folks to think the gear needs to be removed immediately but one thing we have learned is that we have time. Obviously the sooner we get the gear off the better but rushing in without knowing the exact nature and configuration of the entanglement can lead to leaving gear on whale or making multiple unnecessary cuts. Ideally we make as few cuts as possible to get max amount of gear off and to do that you need to know what’s going on. So while it was clear that these guys cared and put in good effort to try and make a difference it’s not ideal from a safety standpoint and leaves lots of unanswered questions. Hopefully they did get it all off but most likely we will never know. If you see an entangled whale call 877 SOS WHALE and document as much as possible while maintaining a safe distance. You should get a return call shortly to get more info and determine course of action based on location/time and team availability.

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