Flipping amazing… the moment a humpback whale ‘thanks’ rescuers who saved it from dying tangled in fishing nets
A humpback whale which was freed from almost certain death by three men off the coast of California repaid the favour to its rescuers with a breathtaking display of breaches and dives.
The amazing hour-long performance was caught on camera moments after the creature was cut free from fishing nets.
When the boat came across the whale it was trapped with its tail and flippers hopelessly entangled in the nets.
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Helping hand: Michael Fishbach and his two friends help to cut the net from the helpless humpback whale
The whale watchers first thought the humpback was already dead as it was floating on top of the water.
But then it let out a loud breath through its blow hole.
Michael Fishbach decided the best thing to do was to get into the water and snorkel alongside the stricken whale.
He said: ‘As I swam alongside the animal our eyes met.
‘There were no words we could share but I wanted to let the whale know that we were there to help.
‘It took some effort to stay focused given the great emotion of the moment.
‘The sight of this large and beautiful creature trapped and so close to death was almost overwhelming.
Danger: The huge creature could have easily overturned the boat but the rescuers were determined to cut the nets away
‘I must admit I was a bit scared because I knew the whale was frightened and fatigued but could still kill me with one panicked movement.’
He said the whale’s tail was so entangled that it was weighed down by about 15ft.
Michael got back on the boat and tried to cut the net off the whale with a small knife.
The trio managed to free one of the fins but the whale sensed freedom and swam away, pulling the boat with it.
But eventually it surfaced again and more net was cut away.
After about an hour of working the whale was totally free.
They pulled the remaining fish net onto the boat and watched the whale give a dramatic show of freedom.
Spectacular: The huge whale shows its splendour as it jumps out of the water
For the next hour they watched the whale breach around 40 times and then dive down waving its tail above the water.
Michael said: ‘We all believed it was a least a show of pure joy, if not thanks.
‘We were all proud and thrilled that we saved this fantastic young life.
‘It was an incredible experience that none of us will ever forget.’
On the video a small girl can be heard saying: ‘I know what she is doing. She is showing us that she is free.
Her mother replies to her: ‘I think she is showing us a thank you dance.’
Michael spends two months every winter photographing whales in the Sea of Cortez.
He is the co-founder of the Great Whale Conservancy (GWC) Blue Whale Protection Program, set up to protect whales along the California coast from ship-strike caused injuries and death.
Thank you: The whale performed around 40 breaches and tail slaps in the hour after being freed
The whole rescue was captured on camera off the coast of California