Something Was Wrong
Winter was starting to creep in when Mick noticed the humpback. She was a familiar sight. A breathless thing to see if you weren’t accustomed to seeing such whales up close but Mick was no stranger to the spectacle.
This time, Mick’s instincts kicked in and he realized that something was wrong. He had to help but had no idea how as the crew was all alone. His love for marine animals took over and he decided to risk it.
Mick Menigoz had always loved the open sea and aquatic animals, particularly whales. A boat captain that spent most of his time off the coast of California, Mick followed his two passions and started a whale-watching business.
People came from far and wide to experience the thrill of seeing these magnificent creatures up close. Mick had many memorable tours under his belt but none of them would compare to the encounter that winter day.
He Knew Her
One whale, in particular, had been making an appearance near Mick’s boat, the aptly named “Superfish”. She was large and a real beauty of the ocean.
Mick and his crew never thought anything of it at first when she showed up again. This time, however, Mick knew that something was wrong but realized they were ill-equipped for the job.
Knowing that the Marine Mammal Center was nearest, Mick sent out a distress call to them hoping they would send the cavalry. They were definitely the right people to call.
The center, a nonprofit organization based out of Sausalito, California, had a staff of experts that were as passionate about marine conservation as Mick was. As the minutes ticked by, however, Mick began to worry that they wouldn’t make it in time?
No One Better
The Marine Center had a stellar reputation for rescuing distressed sea animals. Usually, their callouts were for seals and other smaller animals. Rescuing, treating, and releasing marine animals were what they specialized in.
Whale rescues weren’t their usual activity but they rescued thousands of other sea animals every year so Mick trusted they could handle it. As he surveyed the situation now, he realized they would likely need a special plan today as things were looking grave.
The center consisted of a team of volunteers and other experts. By the time they arrived, the whale had drifted away. She had headed in the direction of the Farallon Islands, near the coast of San Francisco. The team made their way out in that direction and set up a base there to prepare.
Speaking to some crab fisherman, they were told that she had been spotted nearby. Mick silently hoped they wouldn’t be too late.
She Was Spotted
It wasn’t long before they spotted her and the full extent of the mission became apparent. She was a humpback whale and nearly 50-feet long. Bobbing near the surface, it was clear that she was trying to take a well-known migratory path.
The closer they got, the whale’s struggles became clearer. She was definitely in distress. They had to act fast but the job at hand would not be easy by any stretch.
It wasn’t unusual for humpbacks and other whales for that matter to breach the surface. It was, however, unusual for one to remain near the surface as long as this whale was.
The team’s most experienced diver James Mozquito assessed the situation. Given the whale’s length, girth, and extreme weight, they faced a difficult situation. She wouldn’t know that they were trying to help and there was always the risk that she would become aggressive.
One of the team members suddenly spotted what was preventing her from diving down below. Fishermen often used a strong, metallic kind of rope attached to buoys and used to set traps at the bottom of the ocean. It was known as “blue steel” and she had become entangled in a mass of it.
It was unclear how long the whale had been struggling to free herself from the ropes. Her obvious exhaustion was beginning to show in her lack of mobility now and she was likely in a lot of pain. The situation was becoming extremely urgent.
A Tragic Situation
The way the massive whale kept popping its face above the surface and looking at the team was heartbreaking. She wore an almost mournful expression in her eyes that felt eerily like she was silently begging for help.
It was truly a tragic sight to see such a majestic beast utterly helpless. James and the team sprang into action and began working on a plan to help her, each quietly hoping it wouldn’t be too late.
A Matter Of Time
As the divers closed in, they were able to see just how much pain the whale must have been in. The more she struggled, the worse her predicament became. There was little time to help the whale survive the fight for her life.
James and a few crew members dove as deep as possible to see what could be done beneath the surface. That was when they realized the situation was even worse than they thought. Jame’s heart sank when he saw all the lines wrapped around the whale.
Doing The Impossible
James and his crew didn’t think they were able to save it. Not only did the divers notice the rope twisting around her tail, but a line was running through the whale’s mouth. Worse, she was constantly dragged down by the weight of a 3000-pound anchor pin.
All she could do was try to keep her blowhole above the surface. Gentle as she was, the divers still had to be careful. Even a strong flick of the creature’s tail could have done some serious damage.
A Dangerous Mission
As dangerous and as stressful as the task was, compassion led the way. What followed were five long hours of attempting to rescue the whale. All the while, she remained remarkably calm.
Finally, after so much delicate and hard work, she was free. The most remarkable was yet to come.
James suddenly had the whale coming right at him. It was like a slow-moving bus. It stopped six inches away from his chest and then nudged him forward like your dog does when he wants to be pet.
This was no coincidence. Clearly, the whale knew exactly what she was doing. It turned on its side, locked her left eye to her savior, and looked at him. James started petting her again, so it was definitely a display of affection. It was like she was saying thank you.
Mick, James, and the other rescuers had all the reasons to be proud of what they had pulled off. In fact, the Marine Mammal Center called it the first successful attempt on the west coast to free an entangled humpback. That whale knew that the divers were only there to help. It’s like they were reading each other’s minds.
But this wasn’t the first time researchers had a startling encounter with these giants of the deep. But this time, a human was the one who needed rescuing.
Pushed underwater by a 50,000-pound force, she was buffeted about like a cork on the sea. The whale’s nudges became more urgent as her colleagues watched in horror from the boat.
For those terrible 20 minutes, Nan was helpless and completely at the giant creature’s mercy as he tumbled her over and over. But the reason for the whale’s behavior was about to make Nan’s situation so much worse.
As a young girl, Nan Hauser had always dreamed of working in the water with dolphins and whales. But her terrible seasickness and fear of the ocean made her career in marine biology seem very unlikely.
When she turned thirteen, she saw the video of a dolphin culling that changed everything. Instead of worrying about popularity like other girls her age, she made a dramatic decision that would change her life.
Leap Of Faith
Like so many people do, Nan put her dreams aside. Instead of pursuing marine biology, she chose a more practical career path — she would go to college and become a nurse. But, although Nan found immense fulfillment in helping people, she just couldn’t shake the inexorable call of the sea.
When Nan was in her thirties, she took a leap of faith. Now, she researches whales and dolphins in the Bahamas. She has been monitoring them for 28 years. But nothing could have prepared her for one unforgettable encounter.
The Fateful Dive
The dive started out just like any other. Nan anchored the boat and lowered herself into Cook Island’s sea. As she prepared to descend into the dark depths, a shadow in the distance started to approach; fast.
Her heart stopped as the shadow morphed into the silhouette of a whale. Little did she know, there was a possibility that she would be filming her own demise.
A Giant Humpback
Nan preferred the sea to dry land. She never felt at home on solid ground. She was her best self surrounded by marine wildlife, so she was no stranger to sea mammals.
This particular humpback weighed about 50,000 pounds. Nan had spent her life dedicated to creatures of the deep, but in all her studies, she had never encountered the shy humpbacks in person before. As if this one’s presence didn’t shock her enough, what followed was unforgettable.
The No-Contact Rule
Nan is an avid believer in not interacting with any animal in the wild. She has openly written about whale harassment and only initiates contact with the whales she studies if they are sick or beached.
She has educated the world throughout the years but this hatchback whale seemed determined to throw all her studies out the window. The whale greeted Nan by nudging her up and onto his head. Only armed with her camera and diving equipment, Nan began to document their meeting. But her studies never prepared her for this.
The whale began to thrash around before her, rolling and gliding through the water. Then, he began to nudge her. Accompanied by a filmmaker, 63-year-old Nan found herself frozen by the beast’s peculiar behavior.
It pushed her along the surface of the water with its head before rising for a breath, along with Hauser. The whale continued to follow her and for the first time since she was a child, she was afraid.
Nan attempted to remain calm. Although she was buffeted around with a gaping mouth that could swallow her whole, she went into survival mode. She thought of one single thing that could keep her alive—eye contact.
Highly sociable animals like whales and canines use eye contact to establish or challenge dominance. Up against a giant, this single response was all she could think of. But that didn’t stop this beast from pushing her further from her crew, and the boat.
On multiple occasions, Nan attempted to get back to her vessel. But on each attempt, she was interrupted by the humpback. The seed of fear began to sprout.
Her crewmembers, originally filming for a documentary, waited anxiously, fearing they would capture the end of a legend. Nan was as far from her comfort zone as she could be. But something else was keeping an eye on her.
A Dark Shape
Just as a second whale appeared out of nowhere, slapping its tail along the surface of the water, Nan spun around. One whale acting peculiar was rare enough. Similar behavior in a second was even more troubling.
A third figure began to take shape in the distance. But this dark shadow didn’t bob up and down like the humpbacks. This menacing monster swayed from side to side—a horrifying characteristic of one particular sea creature.
Nan couldn’t deny the truth. As a marine expert, she knew the shape of a shark when she saw one. But this wasn’t your average shark.
This was the second deadliest sea animal to attack humans and a common nightmare among surfers and divers alike. And the oceanic predator was coming straight for her at speed.
The tiger shark is one of the most feared animals for swimmers and aquatic life. Weighing up to a ton and spanning up to 25 feet long, this ruthless hunter is notorious for its determination.
Unlike other sharks that take just a taster bite before abandoning their victim, the tiger shark will continue to attack the same prey until the bitter end. Nan swam with more force than she ever had before. But the whale continued to block her.
Nan finally broke free and she and her cameraman pushed every muscle of their bodies as they made their way back to the vessel, glancing over their shoulders constantly.
She took a deep breath as her hand hit the solid boat. Arms and legs flailed as the crew dragged them from likely peril. Nan lay on her back, staring at the blue sky. Was she dreaming? Because something just didn’t add up.
The Whale’s Motive
Like elephants, humpback whales tend to stick together and even protect one another’s young. But protecting humans seemed unfathomable, especially as they were poached to near extinction just 45 years ago.
Thanks to people like Nan, who have dedicated their lives to protecting these animals, humpbacks may soon be removed from the federal endangered species list. But one question remains.
Nan has admitted her own awe and wonder regarding the encounter, “I’m a scientist, and if anyone told me this story, I wouldn’t believe it.” Her encounter has gone viral, leaving scientists around the world speechless.
She hopes the video will continue to spread awareness regarding the complexity of these mysterious creatures. The humpback whale had been trying to warn her about the shark.