A humpback whale that was found in the Monterey Bay with blue steel rope wrapped around its tail and dragging a 300-pound crab trap was completely freed on Thursday off the Santa Barbara coast.
Peggy Stap of Moss Landing-based Marine Life Studies discovered the distressed whale on April 27 when she noticed buoys were following the humpback wherever it went.
After returning to shore from the amazing whale rescue on Thursday, Stap said she was so excited she could hardly speak.
Stap and other whale experts are confident the humpback will fully recover.
"We are almost positive. They have a remarkable ability to heal. It wouldn't have made it if we didn't remove the rope," Stap said. "It was so gratifying to see that whale swim free."
An HD GoPro camera recorded rescuers as they leaned off a tiny inflatable boat and freed the majestic ocean giant. Watch above or mobile users click here.
On April 28, a Whale Entanglement Team composed of NOAA officials and marina biologists was dispatched to the whale while it was in the Monterey Bay. The humpback was being weighed down by a 300-pound crabpot that prevented it from diving to feed.
While rescuers were working, three other humpbacks swam up to the troubled whale, seemingly to check on its well-being. The team successfully freed the whale from the crabpot, but before they could cut all of the rope away from its tail, strong wind gusts and 10-foot seas forced the team to stop.
"We would have finished on the 28th, but the weather was totally against us," Stap said.
Luckily, the team had placed a satellite tracker on the humpback, so they always knew where it was.
A second rescue attempt depended on the weather and ocean being calm enough, and Thursday presented the first opportunity.
They found the humpback swimming off the coast of Santa Barbara, and it was extremely tired.
"The whale was absolutely exhausted and had been through so much. It had traveled 684 nautical miles since we found it in Monterey," Stap said.
The rope was wrapped so tightly around its tail, the tail would have been severed if it was left on much longer. Stap said there was no doubt that the whale was going to die if the rope was not released.
Rescuers cut all remaining rope from the whale before 9 a.m. Thursday, and the humpback swam away into the blue Pacific Ocean, finally free.
The video below shows the humpback during the first rescue attempt on April 28. Mobile users watch here.