Baby Gray Whale Rescued from Fishing Gear in Laguna San Ignacio

Last March, what could have ended in death became a heart-warming story.  Newly-trained members of a research team in Laguna San Ignacio, Mexico, responded quickly to reports of a gray whale calf entangled in fishing rope and several small buoys – and likely saved its life. 

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According to a recent report from the International Whaling Commission, responders cut lines that “went through the calf’s mouth and wrapped around one of its flippers…Two cuts were made to release the gear and finally free the whale.  The mother of the calf stayed calmly nearby throughout the operation.”   

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It’s hard to remain emotionless at such a Hallmark ending.

As an expectant mother, I cried.  (Sure, it could be the pregnancy hormones, but I think it’s much more visceral than that.)  I cannot imagine the agony of the mother whale who must have helplessly watched her calf struggling to stay alive while entombed in fishing gear.   I cannot imagine the terror of the baby whale fighting for its life.  But I can imagine the joy of both mother and baby once the calf was finally free.

As a Laguna San Ignacio junkie (I’ve been lucky to visit this magical place twice), I rejoiced.  It’s extraordinary that the mother and calf “stayed calm…throughout the operation.”  But extraordinary is what defines Laguna San Ignacio –a World Heritage site, a Biosphere Reserve, a whale sanctuary and a migratory bird refuge.  Here, hundreds of gray whales return every year to breed, calve, and nurse their young.  And here, humans experience the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon of seeing hundreds of whales dotting the surface of the ocean; hearing the sound of whales breathing on a quite night; and feeling the wave of a giant whale breaching next to your boat or curiously approaching your outstretched hand.  My experience in the lagoon left me with a profound sense of love, joy and interconnectedness – feelings that quickly resurfaced upon reading about the recent rescue. 

And as an attorney with NRDC’s marine mammal protection project, I felt intense pride.  NRDC has been working to preserve this extraordinary place for years, leading a successful campaign to stop Mitsubishi and the Mexican government from building a colossal salt works factory that could have threatened this invaluable ecosystem.  

Most recently, NRDC funded an IWC-led disentanglement workshop in January that trained participants in Laguna San Ignacio how to untangle a whale from fishing ropes and nets. 

Our investment has already paid off in spades with the rescue of this baby gray whale.  And for that I am profoundly grateful.

Photo Credits: NRDC and the International Whaling Commission

About the Authors

Taryn Kiekow Heimer

Deputy Director, Marine Mammal Protection Project, Nature Program

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