Surfers warned not to attempt whale rescues after Gold Coast shark net traps animal

Animal rescue teams are warning against releases of whales caught in shark nets, after surfers went to the aid of a trapped animal on the Gold Coast this morning.

Sea World and the Department of Fisheries were called to a whale entangled in a shark net off Currumbin just before 6am.

It was the 12th whale to be caught in the shark control equipment since June.

The crews were beaten to the scene by members of the public, who had paddled out after spotting the 8-metre-long animal struggling.

Rodney and Fabian approached the whale and began to untangle it.

‘”There are a few good citizens around, so we thought we would lend a hand,” Rodney said.

“It was a bit distressed when we first got there.”

Fabian said the situation was “difficult”.

A man in a yellow sea world helmet on a boat, hanging on to a yellow net int he water with a large black whale entangled in it
Sea World Rescue warns well-intentioned people to stay away from rescue operations.(Supplied: SeaWorld Rescue)

“We were just a little bit wary not to stress him out too much but [it was] the right result in the end when Sea World got there,” he said.

Rodney said the pair was then approached by Sea World, who directed on.

“Then the other boat [Sea World] turned up and basically pushed us away…but they were really nice to us,” he said.

Dangers of helping

There have been several recent reports of the public trying to assist with rescue operations.

Last month, surfers attempted the rescue of a whale from the same net in Currumbin.

In 2020, a recreational diver escaped a fine after cutting free a humpback in Burleigh Heads.

Sea World’s head of marine science, Wayne Phillips, said he appreciated people wanted to help, but members of the public should leave it to the professionals.

“These animals are huge and they are extremely powerful,” he said.

“To be hit by just their [pectoral] fin could literally kill you, so it’s a dangerous proposition.

Seaworld marine rescue work to release a whale caught in shark control nets off the Gold Coast.
The rescue took about 45 minutes.(ABC News)

“We want to make sure everyone’s safe — we do this, we are practiced for this, we do it a lot, we’re experts at it.”

He said crews were trained to use specialized equipment, never leave the boat and monitor for re-entanglement.

Queensland Shark Control Program manager Michael Mikitis said the rescue teams had a “very good track record”.

“Over the last 10 years, the figures are 65 entanglements and we have 63 of those released safely and alive,” he said.

He said the number of entanglements were above average this year.

“Normally we see around about six entanglements per year, so 12 is a little bit unusual,” he said.

“We also have to recognize the number of whales passing our coastline each year is also increasing.”

big fines

An exclusion zone of 20 meters was put in place for all shark control equipment in 2019.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries could hand out fines of up to $26,690 to anyone who approaches the equipment.

Mr Mikitis said the department would “prefer to take an educational approach” and no-one had been fined for breaching the zone.

A man leaning over a RHIB trying to cut free a whale entangled in yellow net.
Sea World crews use specialized cutting equipment to release whales.(Supplied: SeaWorld)

A Fisheries spokesperson said the equipment “can be dangerous”.

“Anyone interfering with it runs the real risk of becoming entangled,” they said.

“Also large wild animals, such as whales, can be unpredictable and pose a threat to anyone who gets too close.”

They said while the department understood people’s desire to act, “independent action puts themselves, the entangled whale and the [Fisheries animal rescue team] at risk”.

Anyone who spots a whale stuck in shark nets should call the Queensland Shark Control Program hotline on 1800 806 891.


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