Australia: Whale rescue 'was too risky'

3rd Sep 2002 Story: www.theaustralian.news.com.au

The risky release of a humpback whale tangled in a shark net off the northern NSW coast last week would lead to more careful rescues in the future.

Rescue co-ordinator, Sea World's marine sciences director Trevor Long, said today too many chances were taken to cut free the 13m whale near Yamba on Friday.

The whale became entangled in the net off a Gold Coast beach more than a week ago.

It was feared drowned until being spotted days later off northern NSW, still dragging the net.

A rescue team from Sea World and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service went to the whale's aid on Friday.

Mr Long believes that pressure from the media to free the whale and over-enthusiasm from younger divers had the potential to turn the rescue into a human tragedy.

"There were some unsafe situations there. We all get a bit gung ho when we get in the midst of it," Mr Long observed.

"People were going down grabbing handfuls of net and cutting it with knives. At one stage we had a knife jammed in there and couldn't get it out."

In another incident, a diver was hit in the thigh with the pectoral fin from the tangled whale.

"We are in a very vulnerable situation," explained Mr Long.

The rescuers did not use any scuba equipment because tanks could also get tangled in the net. Sea World is now considering purchasing fully enclosed scuba equipment, which would be safer to use around whales trapped in shark nets.

A DNA analysis on the freed whale is expected to determine its sex and whether it was related to a baby whale that drowned off the Gold Coast last week.

Mr Long believes the baby whale was also caught in a shark net.

He said the best way to keep rescue teams safe was to remove some nets from the Gold Coast during the humpback migration season.