When faced with a 12 ton creature, entangled in fishing nets and fighting for survival, what would you do? It’s a challenging question that divers can face when encountering marine animals in distress.
His massive body was strangled, his mouth could not open and his tiny eyes were covered in nets. I got a knife from the fisherman and started to cut the nets from his face so he could breathe properly.”Yara Tibirica, President and Research Diver, Zavora Marine Lab
In these situations, it’s always important to err on the side of extreme caution, prioritize safety at all times and contact professionals who are trained in wildlife rescue. But for some divers, in the moment, that’s easier said than done. Many divers share a compelling urge to act when they see an animal suffering.
This particular rescue story from Yara Tibirica and team at Zavora Marine Lab, a research department of The Association of Coastal Conservation of Mozambique (ACCM), has a happy ending. But you’re not going to believe how it unfolds. Tibirica, research diver and president of ACCM writes:
When a 12 ton animal is fighting to survive you understand how nature is strong and how man can be destructive. We were going out on a dive when some fisherman came to ask the Zavora Lab team and Mozdivers for help to release a whale from their nets. We got there as quick as we could and were geared up, ready to jump in the water before the motor even stopped. In my mind I knew each second would be precious for the entangled whale.
At 8 meters deep, with all the struggle and movement in the water, the visibility was terrible and everyone was scared to get too close. I cautiously approached and as we came closer to the huge body I realized that the "whale" was in fact a whale shark. And it was still alive!
His massive body was strangled, his mouth could not open and his tiny eyes were covered in nets. I got a knife from the fisherman and started to cut the nets from his face so he could breathe properly. About 10 minutes later his face and pectoral fins were free and the massive animal started to roll about crazily. All I could see was 12 tons of whale shark coming in our direction. Somehow he managed to not to harm us but at that point, the freed nets ended up entangling his tail.
We carefully approached his tail to start cutting the nets away. He of course was afraid and fighting to survive, shaking his tail from side to side like a huge snake. I knew the danger of getting tangled, but in that moment, I felt I had no choice. With so much net and rope to remove, I wasn´t sure if we would be able to complete this rescue, but knew we needed to try.
As we progressed, the knives easily lost their sharpness but Zinho, Sergio and I continued working as hard as we could. Eventually a fisherman also came to help. And finally, after 50 minutes of despair and teamwork, we managed to free him. He was gone as the spirit of the ocean - free.
Thank you to the team from Zavora Marine Lab, Mozambique for sharing your story. Want to do your part for ocean protection? Dive Against Debris and join divers around the world working toward marine debris solutions.