There are fears a whale that spent two days caught in a Gold Coast shark net might die, even after being freed, as conservationists call for policy change to prevent future entanglements.
The whale was released on Thursday with “a length of anchor chain and large shark net buoys still attached”, Sea Shepherd Australia says.
“The buoys have been deflated by the rescue team to allow the whale to dive”, it said in a statement.
Some of the net was removed on Wednesday and by late Thursday afternoon “most” of it had been cut away, the Queensland Department of Fisheries said.
“This has been a significant joint operation out at sea over two days involving multiple vessels and crews,” the government’s shark control program manager Michael Mikitis said.
“We did not give up and stayed with the moving whale throughout today while cutting away a lot of the remaining gear before nightfall.”
Conservation groups have long been calling for the removal of shark control nets, especially during whale migration season, saying swimmers can be protected with less damaging tools such as drones.
“This was obviously an extremely difficult and dangerous rescue attempt and we acknowledge the risk undertaken by rescue crews. The challenges they faced were extreme and we are also gravely concerned for the survival of this whale,” Sea Shepherd’s Shark Campaigner, Jonathan Clark said.
“These rescues ought to be a thing of the past, especially when consideration is given to the modern technology available to enhance beach safety without impacting on these magnificent creatures. When (Queensland Fisheries Minister Mark Furner) says that human life comes first, I must wonder if he stops to consider the lives of the whale rescue teams.”
Sea Shepherd is calling on the Queensland Government to immediately replace shark nets with modern alternatives to “improve safety for beachgoers and protect our iconic marine wildlife”.
“Over 20,000 whales travel from Antarctica to the warm waters of north Queensland every year between April and November,” it said.
There has been one whale entanglement so far this migration season.
Last year, six whales that became entangled were successfully released.
Mr Furner has been contacted for comment.