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Hero Saves Whale Trapped in Old Fishnet!



Saving Valentina: A Whale of a Tale
By Kim Clune

AN UNEXPECTED WHALE SIGHTING

The deep blue waters of the Sea of Cortez lap at the sides of the small boat off Baja, California. Sunlight dances off the water. Two friends, their wives, 2 small children, and a boat captain have high hopes for whale sightings, but not like this.

A young humpback floats motionless just under the surface of the sea. As the boat draws close and flanks the whale’s side, the whale remains deathly still. Minutes pass. Nothing. Then, just as the boaters lose hope, a jarring gust of a labored breath…

EYE TO EYE: A CLOSER LOOK

Michael Fishbach, a whale conservationist, dons his snorkel gear and slowly eases into the frigid waters. Trepidation tingles through every nerve. A single, sudden move from this panicked whale has the power end Michael’s life.

Michael moves narry a muscle as he orients alongside the animal. He now sees the nylon shark net binding the whale’s fins to her side, dragging her fluke toward the sea floor. Their eyes meet. The whale’s pupil dilates and follows Michael’s every move. They are merely a foot apart. Michael, wracked with emotion, focuses on somehow communicating “I am here to help.”

THE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM

Michael, his friend George Brasington and Alberto, the boat captain, pull up many feet of nylon shark netting illegally placed in the National Marine Park. They cut away one strand at a time with George’s grossly inadequate pocket knife. One whale fin comes free.

The men scramble to keep hold of the net and struggle to stay aboard as the whale, swimming with relief, tows the boat behind her for a half hour. When exhaustion consumes her once more, the men continue cutting. Another hour passes. The boat lifts from the water with another of the whale’s labored breaths. Will these efforts be enough?

A DANCE OF CELEBRATION

The whale’s fluke is finally freed. Twirling and breaching high into the air, Valentina – so named for her rescue date on February 14th, 2011 – springs from the water in celebration. Her fins slap, her tail fluke waves, and she breaches no less than 40 times over the next hour. Michael’s 5-year-old son, Gaelan, says to mother Heather Fishbach, “Mommy, I know what she’s doing. She’s showing us that she’s all free.”

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