Warning: no-irony zone ahead

On Sunday morning near the Farallones Islands, which are off the coast of San Francisco, a crab fisherman happened upon a female humpback whale ensnared in about 20 weighted, nylon crab-pot ropes. Attached to the ropes were a dozen 90-pound crab traps. The whole tangled mess was wrapped tightly around the whale and dragging her downward, while she struggled to keep her blowhole above the water. The fisherman alerted the marine mammal rescue people, who called around and assembled a team of divers, who motored out to the site.

It took the divers an hour to free the whale, which "floated passively in the water" while they painstakingly cut through the ropes with curved knives. When the whale was finally liberated, she did not immediately dive beneath the surface and get the hell out of Dodge, like any sensible whale -- or other wild creature -- might do after such an ordeal. Instead, the whale began swimming in circles, approaching each diver and bumping him gently before swimming to the next diver.

What I found so compelling about this story, aside from the fact that it's extraordinary, was its moral clarity and sense of wonder. You rarely find something so effortless in the news biz, which is characterized by more shades of gray than you'll find in a tombstone factory. Not to mention the horror, the cynicism, the attitude, the world-weariness ....the whole schmagirggle that makes up so much journalism.

One diver was eye to eye with the whale the whole time he was cutting her free. A single casual flip of a 50-ton whale's tale can kill a man, but the diver said he never felt he was in danger. The whale just kept looking him in the eye, and he kept looking her in the eye. "It was an epic moment of my life," he said.

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