Spanish scuba divers have rescued a 9m female humpback whale that had become trapped in an illegal drift-net off Mallorca.
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The challenging underwater rescue took place off Cala Millor on the Mediterranean island’s east coast on 20 May. The whale had been spotted at the surface by crew of a passing tourist boat, and they alerted Palma Aquarium, the Balearic Islands’ official marine fauna recovery centre.
The humpback whale, only the third ever to have been sighted in the islands, was found to be badly entangled in some 15m of heavy mesh, of the sort banned by the UN some 30 years ago. When the aquarium rescuers arrived by boat, however, their initial attempts to release the whale at the surface proved unsuccessful.
Four divers from the local Albatros Diving and Skualo Porto Cristo dive centres then arrived and took to the water to help.
“I was overwhelmed by her look, asking for help with her small eyes, exhausted, unable to open her mouth,” commented Gigi Torras, co-owner of Albatros Diving and a qualified marine biologist. “After a few minutes with her, she understood and accepted our help.”
Using knives, it took the divers 45 minutes to cut the stricken humpback free from the ghost-net. Working back from the head, they reported that the whale had quickly relaxed during the stressful process, and finally “gave a little wiggle” to shake off the final pieces of net.
“When she was free she just stayed there, relaxed, caught her breath, got some strength and she gave us a little thank-you sign – just very briefly. Then she swam off and it was out of this world – it was incredible,” said Torras, describing the moment as her best-ever birthday present.