At least 12 crab traps, weighing 90 pounds each, hung off the whale, the divers said.
The weight was pulling the whale downward, forcing it to struggle mightily to keep
its blowhole out of the water.
Moskito and three other divers spent about an hour cutting the ropes with a special
curved knife. The whale floated passively in the water the whole time, he said, giving off
a strange kind of vibration.
"When I was cutting the line going through the mouth, its eye was there winking at me,
watching me," Moskito said. "It was an epic moment of my life."
When the whale realized it was free, it began swimming around in circles, according to
the rescuers. Moskito said it swam to each diver, nuzzled him and then swam to the next one.
"It seemed kind of affectionate, like a dog that's happy to see you," Moskito said. "I
never felt threatened. It was an amazing, unbelievable experience."
Humpback whales are known for their complex vocalizations that sound like singing and for
their acrobatic breaching, an apparently playful activity in which they lift almost their
entire bodies out of the water and splash down.
Before 1900, an estimated 15,000 humpbacks lived in the North Pacific, but the population
was severely reduced by commercial whaling. In the 20th century, their numbers dwindled to
fewer than 1,000. An international ban on commercial whaling was instituted in 1964, but
humpbacks are still endangered. Between 5,000 and 7,500 humpbacks are left in the world's
oceans, and many of those survivors migrate through the Gulf of the Farallones National
Whale experts say it's nice to think that the whale was thanking its rescuers, but nobody
really knows what was on its mind.
"You hate to anthropomorphize too much, but the whale was doing little dives and the guys
were rubbing shoulders with it," Menigoz said. "I don't know for sure what it was thinking,
but it's something that I will always remember. It was just too cool."
Humpback whales hold a special place in the hearts of Bay Area residents ever since one
that came to be known as Humphrey journeyed up the Sacramento River in 1985. The wayward
creature swam into a slough in Rio Vista, attracting 10,000 people a day as whale experts
tried desperately to turn it around. Humphrey went back to sea after 25 days of
near-pandemonium and worldwide media attention.
In the fall of 1990, Humphrey turned up again inside the bay in shallow water near the
Bayshore Freeway, finally beaching on mud flats near Double Rock, just off the Candlestick
parking lot. He remained stuck for 25 hours, until volunteers, helped by a 41-foot Coast
Guard boat, pulled him free and sent him back to the ocean. He has not been seen since.
Humpbacks like Humphrey do seem to relate to people more than other whales, according
"You do hear reports of friendly humpbacks, whales approaching boaters, especially in Baja
California," Stoudt said, "but, for the most part, they don't like to be interacted with."