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Paddle Boarders Risk Legal Action to Rescue Humpback Whale Trapped in Shark Net in Australia

The humpback whale was discovered in a state of distress at Marcoola Beach.(Supplied: Sea Shepherd Australia)

A daring rescue off the Sunshine Coast has captured headlines as paddle boarders cut a humpback whale free from a shark net. The act, though illegal, highlights the tension between marine life protection and human intervention.

The Incident at Marcoola Beach

Will Wensley, Brenton Owens, Luke Bird, and Jaz Sol cut the whale free off the Sunshine Coast.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Josh Dye)

On Monday, a group of paddle boarders, including Will Wensley and Brenton Owens, noticed a distressed humpback whale entangled in a shark net at Marcoola Beach. The whale was struggling, wrapped in two layers of netting.

Immediate Action Taken

the group used paddle boards to approach and free the whale at Marcoola Beach.(Supplied: Sea Shepherd Australia)

Despite the risk of legal consequences and personal injury, the group decided to intervene when authorities did not arrive promptly. They used paddle boards to approach the whale and cut the net, freeing it.

The Whale’s Condition

The humpback whale was discovered in a state of distress at Marcoola Beach.(Supplied: Sea Shepherd Australia)

The whale, initially motionless and seemingly taking its last breath, was freed after the net was cut away from its eye. The whale eventually swam away, alleviating the group’s immediate fears for its life.

Humpback Whale
Humpback Whale. Image via Depositphotos

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) noted that the group’s actions were against the law, emphasizing that the public should not approach or attempt to release trapped whales.

Fines and Penalties

whale
Humpback Whale via Unsplash.

Under Queensland legislation, fines for approaching a whale within 100 meters can reach $19,356. Approaching shark nets within 20 meters can result in fines up to $32,260, with no exemptions for reasonable excuses.

Prior Incidents

Humpback Whale
Humpback whale at Disko Bay (Greenland). Image via Giles Laurent, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There have been previous cases of the public attempting whale rescues. In 2022 and 2020, similar incidents occurred, leading to debates about the safety and legality of such interventions.

Expert Opinions on Whale Rescue

Humpback Whale
Massive humpback whale playing in water captured from Whale whatching boat. Image via depositphotos

Experts, including Naomi Gardiner from James Cook University, warn about the dangers of approaching distressed whales. These large animals can act unpredictably, posing significant risks to would-be rescuers.

The Whale’s Size and Strength

Bubble Net Feeding
Bubble Net Feeding humpback whale. Image via Depositphotos

A humpback whale’s pectoral fin alone can weigh up to a tonne and be 5 meters long. The sheer size and strength of these animals make rescue attempts perilous.

The Use of Shark Nets

Humpback whale tail
humpback whale tail diving on pacific ocean background in cabo san lucas mexico. Image via Deposit Photos

Shark nets have been used in Queensland since the 1960s but do not extend to the ocean floor, leading to entanglements. Critics argue these nets are outdated and harmful to marine life.

Calls for Alternative Measures

Humpback whale. Image from depositphotos

Sea Shepherd Australia and other conservation groups call for the removal of shark nets, labeling them as barbaric. They advocate for alternative shark control measures to prevent such incidents.

Government Response

Humpback whale under water
Humpback whale under water. Image via Deposit Photos

The Queensland government has committed funds to research and trial alternatives to shark nets, including a $1 million annual investment and a $2 million drone trial.

Public Sentiment

Image via Wikimedia – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Public sentiment is divided. While some support the paddle boarders’ brave actions, others stress the importance of following legal protocols to ensure safety for both humans and marine life.

What to Do If You See a Trapped Whale

whale
By NPS / Kaitlin Thoreson – https://www.flickr.com/photos/alaskanps/34523142370/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77794656

If you encounter a trapped whale, the recommended action is to contact authorities immediately and avoid taking personal risks. Call the Shark Control Program hotline for professional assistance.

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