Animals | Life | Nature

A Fisherman’s Life-Changing Experience with a Stranded Humpback Whale

The true story of an interaction that would change your life forever.

Sean Kernan
5 min readSep 3, 2021

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Image of a whale.
Editorial Rights purchased via iStock Photos

Imagine you own a medium-sized fishing boat. You give small tours for a living, making a humble wage in the San Francisco Bay area.

It’s a slow weekday night. You're lounging about on your weathered wood-plank dock, watching TV. Your phone rings. It’s a friend and fellow fisherman. You hear the immediate concern in his voice.

While at sea — he came across a gigantic whale that’s trapped. It’s ensnared in some type of wire and appears to have been stuck there for some time. The whale is exhausted, bobbing up and down, struggling to breathe.

You make a few phone calls to guys you know who are reasonably skilled scuba divers. They grab their gear and arrive at your dock 45 minutes later. The three of you pile into your boat, start the engine, and begin tracking out to sea, about 25 miles off of the coast.

You arrive at the scene — and the situation isn’t good.

It’s a massive female humpback. Her front fins are ensnared in lines. She has thick ropes bound tightly over her eyes and torso, trailing from her body like some apocalyptic cloak.

The ropes are from crab traps (cages at the bottom, with ropes that rise to the surface, tied to a buoy). She looks partially cocooned by a giant spider.

The worst of the predicament is the tight clump of ropes at the base of her rear tail. A dozen traps hang from it. The heavy steel cages pull down on her like anchors, threatening to drown her.

The whale is almost completely vertical. She’s laboring to surface for each breath and appears to be weakening.

You and your friends jump in the water. You swim slowly towards the 15 meters long, 22,000 KG humpback.

As you get closer — the whale begins panicking. She swings her massive front fins at you, spasming, trying to get away. She thinks you’re a predator.

You swim closer, steering clear of her thrashing fins. You swim alongside her body, running your hand gently across her…

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Sean Kernan

Former financial analyst turned writer. Always on the hunt for a good story. That guy from Quora. Writing out of Tampa, Florida.