humpback whale rescue


Local dive masters and charter fishing guides worked together for 2 hours to rescue a baby humpback whale entangled in a 40 meter long fishing net off the coast of the Catalina Islands along Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast.  Captain Pat Franklin of the 27 foot Las Brisas charter boat, out for a half day of fishing, spotted the calf after its nearby mother breached, an act considered to show distress in whales.  Shortly thereafter the calf was spotted with the net and other assorted lines and floats wrapped around its neck.


Franklin, knowing that mother whales are protective of their calves and have been known to ram boats that get between them and their young, positioned his craft between the two large mammals.  Then – with the help of his onboard fishing clients and the young whale’s audible cries growing louder – he attempted to pull the trailing net free from the calf.  But this proved impossible because of the young whale’s persistent forward movement.


Realizing more human help was needed to untangle the whale; Franklin radioed the Golden Huntress, a 54 foot SCUBA dive tour boat in the area.  Dive masters Roy Mora and Emelio Lopez responded and positioned the larger boat in front of the exhausted calf while its mother, seemingly aware of the situation, swam calmly alongside.


Both divers then entered the water in front of the calf.  Mora was first to reach the young whale and grabbed onto its back.  But the frightened baby submerged and the force of the water knocked his mask off, making it impossible for him to see where to begin to untangle the mesh. Lopez, however, was able to catch the tail end of the net and climb up its length to the baby’s head.  Then, using his dive knife, he cut away the mesh.  Moments later the knotted mass floated free and mother and calf headed out to sea at a fast pace.


Humpback whales give birth to their young in Costa Rican waters.  The area is rich in food and the coastline has many protected bays and inlets where mothers and offspring find sanctuary.  But careless, unsustainable fishing practices threaten the humpback.

Swimming with and touching whales is illegal because of the inherent danger that these massive animals pose to humans.  The captains and crew members of both boats put themselves into a dangerous situation that is not advisable for anyone to repeat.  But their commitment to protecting the marine environment knows no boundaries, and their efforts increased the odds that this young whale will return as a mature adult to this very stretch of coastline.


Written by Capt.Tom Haydu, Costa Rica. Photo Credit: Pat Franklin