With blistered, salty skin and matted hair, they were down to their last sips of fresh water. A recreational day at sea had turned into a fight for continued existence. Slumped on the bow, searching for any hint of a breeze to soothe her burning face, her eyes widened when she noticed something fast approaching in the distance…

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The gray whale lifted her ponderous head and expelled vaporous breath into the scorching heat of the day. The sun beat relentlessly down on her exposed back, causing her skin to blister and crack where she couldn’t submerge her entire body in the shallow water.

Following her yearly migration route along the western coast of North America, the thirty-six tonne female gray whale had been guiding along her newborn calf; her very first offspring.

Day and night they traveled, their instincts guiding them to the bountiful feeding grounds in the Alaskan waters. Then, yesterday, the new mother had hit a snag. Literally. A ripped fishing net that some fisherman had carelessly discarded had ensnared the huge mammal, entangling itself around her right pectoral fin, her midsection, and her flukes.

Thrashing her tail, hoping to dislodge the encumbering mass, she had instead only succeeded in making it tighter.

Although the weight of the waterlogged net dragged the lower half of her body downwards, she still maintained enough buoyancy that she was still able to breathe. Having her right pectoral handicapped proved to be a major liability. Her mobility hampered, and rising panic setting in at this foreign object that wouldn’t release her, she swam in a disorienting circle, her movements taking her ever closer to the shoreline.

Due to both the entangled net, as well as his mother’s panicked movements, the calf, a sixteen foot male, was unable to feed, giving rise to his own sense of panic.

Exhausted, the gray whales had made their way into an inlet where, stranded in shallow waters, the mother lay three quarters submerged in water, the top half of her body exposed to the blistering rays of the sun.

She thrashed her head back and forth in sheer frustration, kicking up huge clouds of muddy water. Unable to locate her calf, the mother let forth a string of clicks, calling out to him. His answering grunts and clicks told her he was still close by. He, at least, was able to submerge himself in the water although he refused to go far from his mother. The lack of nutritious milk that a young newborn like himself needed was greatly sapping his strength and to continue as he was, unaided by his mother on the long journey, would make him an easy prey for orcas.

The mother rested, her struggles growing less vigorous and more listless, the sun sapping what little energy she had left, as she rasped out another set of labored breathing. She knew the danger that her calf and herself were in, but for all her impressive size, she was powerless to do anything.

The reassuring bump from her offspring calmed her frayed nerves as she raised her head in order to see above the waterline. Her right eye rolled in fresh panic at the sight of a fast approaching object.

Orcas, sensing prey, will sometimes attack in shallow waters, and unable to defend her calf, the female gray whale sounded a series of moans, knocks, and clicks, sending her calf swimming into deeper water and escape.

Lifting her massive tail as high as she could, using all her energy to lift the dragging net, she brought her tail back down in a smashing blow, hoping for an intimidating effect. It seemed to work. The object which had been racing towards her had slowed and, while still approaching, seemed to be using more caution. As it appeared to stay just out of her range of movement, she could see that this was no orca.

Those were people disembarking from a boat. They moved cautiously towards her, staying clear from her dangerous tail and massive head, while her immobile right pectoral fin posed no threat. Having had zero experience with humans prior to this, she felt no danger from these people. She rumbled reassuringly to her calf who answered back with a rumble of his own, but stayed well away from the humans.

Once they reached the trapped whale, the rescuers set themselves to the task at hand. They worked for hours, cutting away the binding net, removing it first from around her midsection and pectoral fin, saving her flukes for last. With each length of net that fell away, the whale was allowed more and more freedom. She made her pleasure and relief known with a deep rumble when they splashed a spray of water over her scorched skin.

As she felt the last of the net release her, and once the people had retreated, she began her own arduous task. She heaved her body weight and thrashed her tail and fins, trying desperately to wriggle her way back out into deeper water, and to her offspring.

Once she was finally able to submerge her entire body and began to swim, the team of rescuers let out a round of applause which the whale took to be a rumble of their own. She called out to her calf who rejoined her immediately, and as soon as she was deep enough, she displayed a giant breach, fins out, to show her rejoice at being free once again, and giving thanks.