Experienced free diver Adrian Colaprete and a friend, Pat Foster, spotted the whale about 50 miles off the coast Friday while they were aboard Foster's charter fishing boat. Bringing only a knife and a waterproof video camera, Colaprete dived in and swam to the 50-foot-long whale, sawed through heavy ropes with his knife and freed the North American right whale, the (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Tuesday.
The critically endangered North American right whales are believed to number only about 400, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
Ship collisions and entanglements in fishing gear are major hazards for the whales, and after seeing the video, Mark Swingle of the Virginia Aquarium and Martine Science Center in Virginia Beach said he would not recommend Colaprete's actions but was pleased with the outcome.
Colaprete said the whale lifted its fluke, or tail, above the water as it swam away, as though it was saying goodbye, and called the experience among the best moments of his life.
"Being part of it was something bigger than me," he said.