Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: Whale of a Tale

On December 15, 2005 the San Francisco Chronicle carried a story about a female humpback whale which had become entangled in an unbelievable web of crab traps, fishing nets, and lines. She had some nets and hundreds of yards of line wrapped around her tail and torso. There was also a heavy line in her mouth. The whale was so weighted down and entangled that she could scarcely swim to the surface to breathe.

A fisherman spotted the distressed whale just east of the Farrallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours the rescue team arrived and determined her situation was so critical that the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. This was a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed the whale. When she was free, the divers said she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. Then she came back to each diver, one at a time, and nudged or pushed him around gently. She was thanking them for saving her life. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The man who cut the rope out of the whale's mouth said her eye was following him the whole time.

The plight of the whale has more than a few human parallels. For reasons too numerous to recite, we can sometimes become entangled and trapped by mental, physical and emotional detritus that is floating around in our world. We don't intend for it to happen. We don't expect to get hooked, and never think it will turn out as it does. We always think we can cut ourselves loose whenever we want. We think we can quit before we get addicted. We think we will be able pay the money back before anyone finds out. But, one day we find ourselves entangled and trapped beyond our power to break loose. We find ourselves being dragged under and no longer able to stay afloat.

If this ever happens to you, and I pray it does not, may you be fortunate enough to find someone skillful and caring enough to cut you loose before it is too late. May you encounter someone who will have the courage and strength to snatch off the man-hole cover and come in and pull you out. Moreover, may you still have enough presence of mind to accept help. Finally, may you have enough class to show real gratitude to those who took the time, effort, and risk to cut you loose.

Can you hear what I am saying? I hope so! It begs to be heard.