The Power of Words + Images

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I know this story is a few years old because I looked it up, but it just came into my email box from my sister and really struck me. I couldn’t stop looking at the photo, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the whale, and I couldn’t stop being in awe of the amazing thing that happened.

It’s not just an Internet thing. It’s documented in the San Francisco Chronicle.

It happened in December, 2005.

Here’s the real story:

“If you read the San Francisco Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale who had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, and a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate ) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her.

When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently around as she was thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eyes were following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.

May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you. And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.”

Beautiful, right? And totally true. All except, according to, the striking photo accompanying the story as it goes around the Internet has nothing to do with the actual whale rescue. That beautiful photo is the work of cameraman diver Marco Queral, who has dedicated the last 17 years of his life to ocean photography, and was nowhere near this whale when it got into trouble.

Here’s the real photo

Okay, I guess there’s a whale in there, but it’s not nearly as dramatic.

Gee, I was kinda disappointed when I found out the original photo was not of the happy, freed whale from the crab trap incident. It seems the least she could do would be to pose charmingly for us. And why the heck didn’t someone call Marco Queral to the scene to document it all?

Then I sort of lost a bit of interest in the story, and I wondered how I could be so fickle — after all, the event really happened, the whale really got snared, was released, did appear grateful — did I really care less because it wasn’t photographed beautifully?

How does communication really happen?

Did the message that had meant so much to me —

that we are all blessed who are surrounded by people who can help us get untangled by the things that are binding us, and the reminder to give and receive gratitude and appreciation

— mean less without the dramatic photo?

Or did I feel let down because I had first been built up?

Or is it because, as a communicator, the careful combination of words and images has always meant a lot to me, and this particular story illustrated that to me so perfectly?

I’d love to hear what you think.


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