Friday, March 23 , 2018, 12:14 am | Light Rain Fog/Mist 57º


Captain’s Log: A Real-World Whale Rescue

Charter crew and passengers become part of lifesaving mission

I saw a drawing of a whale with a fouled rope, and it made me remember a real-world whale save story to share. Settle back while I spin a seafaring yarn of critters, danger and good works.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

Many years ago (well, at least 10), Capt. Tiffany Vague and I were on a charter near the rugged west end of Santa Cruz Island. Fortunately, we were enjoying a rare (for that area) day of calm winds and blue skies. Nearshore fishing was good, and our passengers were hooting and hollering while reeling in some very tasty dinner fish. They had families to feed, and fresh fish was their culinary goal.

We all spun around when we heard a loud “whoosh” sound two points off the larboard bow. It was a big California gray whale cruising through the lush kelp beds off Fraser Point. We cheered in unison and waved at the gentle giant about a quarter-mile away. We kept fishing, and the whale stayed around.

After awhile, Capt. Tiffany and I glanced meaningfully at each other because we both recognized that something wasn’t right with that gray whale. It began thrashing about more than is normal and stayed in one area.

We asked our charter clients to put fishing on hold in order to investigate. They were more than willing. As we moved slowly toward the agitated animal, I radioed another trusted professional, the most knowledgeable whale expert I personally know — Capt. Fred Benko, who was several miles away on his whale watch boat, Condor Express.

Capt. Fred came in, surveyed the situation and reported that the whale had a rope wrapped around its body and looped over a fin. The rope was attached to something heavy that was stuck in the kelp, limiting the animal’s maneuverability and risking severe fatigue.

Here was a situation requiring action. That action could be very dangerous, and the whale’s welfare demanded that professionals handle the task.

Capt. Fred called in professional marine mammal rescuers. While waiting for them to arrive, both boats stayed near enough to the whale that it knew it wasn’t alone, but far enough off to keep it from growing worried about us. That critter was growing tired because it had to lift a great weight to come repeatedly to the surface to breathe.

The whale rescuers arrived with all the gear and experience needed. They went in the water and approached the whale in a respectful manner. The whale seemed to recognize their good intentions and allowed them to come close enough to be in contact. The rescuers cut the rope, freed the whale and swam off. That big gray moved off a safe distance and celebrated by swimming around the boats a couple of times before continuing on its journey.

I doubt there was a dry eye in any of the boats. I know I was moved to tears.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >