A humpback whale that was freed from almost certain death by three men off the coast of California returned the favor to its rescuers with an impressive display of diving and jumping.
The incredible hour-long performance was caught on camera moments after the creature was freed from the fishing nets.
When the ship encountered the whale, it became trapped with its tail and fins hopelessly entangled in the nets.
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Helping hand: Michael Fishbach and his two friends help cut the helpless humpback whale’s net
Whale watchers first thought the humpback was already dead because it was floating on top of the water.
But then he let out a loud sigh through the vent.
Michael Fishbach decided the best thing to do was get into the water and snorkel alongside the stricken whale.
He said: ‘As I swam alongside the animal, our eyes met.
‘There were no words we could share, but I wanted to let the whale know we were there to help.
‘It took some effort to maintain concentration given the great emotion of the moment.
‘The sight of this large, beautiful creature trapped and so close to death was almost overwhelming.
Danger: The huge creature could have easily capsized the boat, but rescuers were determined to cut the nets.
“I must admit that I was a little scared because I knew the whale was scared and fatigued, but it could still kill me with a single panicked movement.”
He said the whale’s tail was so tangled that it weighed about 15 feet.
Michael returned to the boat and tried to cut the whale’s net with a small knife.
The trio managed to free one of the fins, but the whale sensed freedom and swam away, dragging the boat with it.
But eventually it resurfaced and more netting was cut.
After approximately an hour of work the whale was completely free.
They placed the remaining fishing net on the boat and watched the whale give a dramatic display of freedom.
Spectacular: The enormous whale shows its splendor when jumping out of the water
Over the next hour they watched the whale jump about 40 times and then dive, waving its tail over the water.
Michael said: “We all believed it was at least a show of pure joy, if not gratitude.”
‘We were all proud and excited to have saved this fantastic young life.
“It was an incredible experience that none of us will ever forget.”
In the video a girl can be heard saying: ‘I know what he’s doing. She is showing us that she is free.
His mother replies, “I think he’s showing us a thank you dance.”
Michael spends two months each winter photographing whales in the Sea of Cortez.
He is a co-founder of the Great Whale Conservancy’s (GWC) Blue Whale Protection Program, created to protect whales along the California coast from injuries and deaths caused by ship strikes.
Thank you: The whale performed around 40 strikes and tail strikes in the hour after it was released
The entire rescue was caught on camera off the coast of California.