An Emotional Encounter with Pinball – 12/8/23

Yesterday’s morning trip got off to a very hard and emotional start. As we were leaving the harbor, we heard reports of a whale that was entangled in fishing gear. The whale was in the general area that most of our recent trips have been in so chances were good it was one of “our” whales. I had mixed feelings. I was hoping we’d come across the whale to see who it was and to also help keep track of it until help arrived, but I’ve seen entangled whales before and I know how hard it is to see.

As luck had it, our captain spotted a whale in the distance who was acting very off. It was surging and changing directions erratically so we headed over. We realized as we were approaching that there were actually two whales; a mother and a calf. When we got closer we knew right away that it was Pinball and calf. My heart absolutely sank.

We stood by, took as many photos as we could, and tracked their movements while the disentanglement team from the Center For Coastal Studies made their way towards us. At this time, they were about 8 miles away. Thankfully it was early morning and it was a beautiful, calm day.

When we first arrived, Pinball was not fluking so it seemed as though the gear was preventing her from doing so. Towards the end of our time there, she was able to and she visibly had new cuts on her tail so at some point the gear was preventing her from diving. She also has a new cut near her dorsal fin. Pinball was one of the few whales in our population who was very “clean” – meaning, she had no boat or entanglement related scars. It’s so incredibly sad to me that she now has those scars like so many other whales.

I can’t stress enough how difficult it is watching whales in this kind of a situation. Both Pinball and her calf were trumpet blowing (a loud exhale that’s believed to mark stress, annoyance, aggravation, etc). Both whales were surging to the surface with force. We could see Pinball trying to twist as she dove to shake the gear free. They were both under a lot of stress and you could physically feel their panic.

Pinball is the first whale that I ever saw back in 2001 so she has a very special place in my heart and she’s a favorite whale to so many people. I’ve always felt as though she has the largest fan club of all the whales in our area. I know that a lot of people will be upset reading all of this, but this story DOES have a good ending! We found out a few hours later that the disentanglement team WAS able to free her. We did not see her for the rest of the day, but I cannot wait to see her again. I’m beyond grateful that her ordeal was short and her injuries appear to be minor. I wish all entanglements ended on such a good note.

With that said, I really want to give Capt Johnny of Cape Ann Whale Watch a big shout out. This was a very stressful situation, but he didn’t skip a beat in communicating to us what he needed us to do and his communication to the CCS disentanglement team helped to make Pinball’s rescue a swift one.

Of course, I need to give the Center For Coastal Studies a shout out as well. Their work of disentangling whales can be very dangerous, but they do it over and over again saving the lives of many of our whales. If you’d like to make a donation to support their work, I highly recommend it. You can do so here…


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