Recently our team at Cabo Expeditions had the good fortune to rescue a young whale from possible injury or drowning. Yes, a whale can drown! if it can’t get back to the surface to breathe. That can happen when these air-breathing mammals get tangled in fishing lines and nets. They can also die of sheer exhaustion from dragging heavy line through water. It’s a common present-day hazard to humpbacks.
It was noon on a sunny day on November 26. Captain Jose was bringing home the zodiac Expedition II with 12 happy snorkelers from their Beach Hopper Tour. They were relaxed, musing on the colorful and quirky marine life they’d met in Santa Maria and Chileno Bays.
The Whale Is Spotted
At 12:15 the captain headed into the bay of Cabo San Lucas, where he came upon a small humpback whale ahead of him close to shore. A couple of boats were hovering nearby. Something was not right about the young whale’s movements. The captain realized the poor creature’s body was wrapped up in fishing line.
He stopped near the whale to mark its location and explained to the guests that our company has an obligation to help the whale. Cabo Expeditions is the only operator in Los Cabos authorized by the federal government of Mexico to perform a whale rescue. He explained they needed to wait to be relieved by another boat. Obviously, he couldn’t risk the guests’ safety in a whale rescue, but needed to stay and keep the whale in sight.
By 1:00 p.m. a Cabo Expeditions zodiac arrived with Captains Luis and Chuy on board to relieve Captain Jose. He took the guests, who had witnessed firsthand the plight of an entangled whale, back to the Cabo Expeditions office by the marina.
When Captain Jose returned to take part in the rescue, the whale had traveled toward the rocky promontory of Misiones. Humpbacks are a protected species, and whale rescues are carefully regulated by the Mexican government. The first requirement is that there be two boats present, for the safety of all concerned.
It was also required that the appropriate law enforcement be on hand, in this case the environmental police, PROFEPA, and the police for parks and protected areas (CONANP). They arrived by 2:30 p.m., by which time the whale had traveled about a mile, just offshore from the Riu Hotel.
Would It Survive?
The first step was to evaluate the condition of the whale. It was about 10 meters long (about 32 feet), not fully grown, but hardly a little thing! A small school bus. From the rescuers’ vantage point, they couldn’t tell what sex it was.
The young whale remained calm, showing no signs of stress, but it did look tired. Long fishing lines wrapped around its body, from the long pectoral fins all the way to just before the tail. It took 15 minutes to free the whale. The team collected about 20 meters of line (65 feet)—plus a lobster trap.
Untangling a whale can be dangerous to all concerned, human and cetacean, so professional training by RABEN has set Cabo Expeditions apart for competence as well as compassion.
RABEN is the Network of Assistance to Entangled Whales (Red de Asistencia a Ballenas Enmalladas), a coalition of citizens and law enforcement committed to saving whales from this increasingly serious threat to the species.