Humpback Whale Freed From Shark Net

The Guardian reports that a 33-foot (10-meter) long humpback whale was freed from a net off Australia’s Gold Coast on Wednesday morning. The animal had apparently gotten trapped in a net that is used to keep sharks from entering the region’s popular swimming beaches.

The marine mammal was rescued by crew members from the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit supported by Sea World Gold Coast Australia, according to the insignia visible in the above video.

According to the institution’s website, “A team of highly skilled staff, headed by Director of Marine Sciences, Trevor Long, are on call 24 hours each and every day with resources and specialised equipment to ensure rescue operations can be initiated quickly and efficiently.”

Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist at the nonprofit Oceana in the U.S., told Ocean Views that extracting whales from nets is difficult, dangerous work. “People have to be really careful to follow all protocols that they’ve been trained to do, to not create more problems for the animal,” she said.

Keledjian said such rescue efforts by trained handlers do tend to be successful the majority of the time, although sometimes they aren’t able to completely remove all of a net, which can weigh an animal down.

When it comes to rescuing whales stuck in nets or fishing gear, timing is critical. If a whale gets material wrapped around their tail, they could swim around for weeks, before falling too tired to feed itself, she said. If it had gear around its head, it might perish sooner.

“If it’s stuck in a net, as long as it can breathe at the surface it could hang out there for a long time,” said Keledjian. “If the net were anchored the whale would have to fight to stay on the surface, which would be similar to a human trying to swim with a huge weight attached.”

Keledjian said research shows that individuals from more than 2/3 of all large whale species have been entangled in nets or fishing gear around the world. The biggest culprit is not nets that protect beaches, but fishing equipment, she said, especially when active fisheries overlap with important whale habitats.

“Trap pot gear in Alaska and New England is especially problematic, and it can be especially dangerous for rescue crews given rough seas,” she said. “A lot of effort goes into such rescues.”

(See “Opinion: Sea World vs. the Whale That Killed Its Trainer.”)

Changing Planet