Hunt for whale spotted in 'difficult' situation off Aussie coastline: 'I was lucky'

NSW authorities are hoping to rescue the whale after it was photographed in a 'frustrating' situation over the weekend.

The whale in the ocean at Copacabana trailing the fishing equipment. A red circle has been placed around the buoys.
The whale was filmed 3km out from Captain Cook Lookout at Copacabana. Source: Chris Dick

The hunt is on for a whale entangled in metres of fishing line off the Australian coast. Authorities are asking the public to help track and photograph the massive mammal until "complex" and "dangerous" ocean conditions make a rescue attempt safe.

The humpback is easily identifiable by the four yellow-plastic-buoys being dragged behind it. If it's not rescued, the rope could cut into its flesh and cause infection, or it could slowly succumb to exhaustion.

One of the last to see the whale was drone pilot Chris Dick who manoeuvred his camera through windy skies just after midday on Sunday.

He warns it may not be easy to spot the whale as it is one of many migrating north to warmer waters. “I was lucky to find it. There were literally hundreds of whales out there yesterday, it was like whale soup,” he told Yahoo News on Monday.

Dick ventured out to Captain Cook Lookout at Copacabana on the NSW Central Coast after spotting a message from marine mammal rescue group ORRCA that it had been seen north of Sydney earlier in the morning. Its volunteers had been collecting information for the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) so it could attempt to untangle the animal.

Being able to clearly see the humpback with his drone, but not being able to reach it was “frustrating” for Dick.

Whales have migrated from Antarctica to the Great Barrier Reef for centuries, but in recent years their time in Australian waters has become increasingly treacherous due to discarded fishing equipment. After they make it through NSW waters, whales face further obstacles because of the shark nets the Queensland government has erected across their ancient ocean pathways.

Related: Mystery over strange whale photos off Aussie coast

The whale in the ocean at Copacabana trailing the fishing equipment. It is next to another whale in the ocean.
The humpback was keeping pace with four others despite its situation. Source: Chris Dick

Like many on the Central Coast, Chris had hoped his sighting could have resulted in an immediate rescue despite the rough ocean conditions being a “little bit tricky”. “The swell was big. But it wasn't so big you would say: No one's going out there today,” he said.

However NPWS told Yahoo News it needs to prioritise crew safety during all rescue attempts. “The NSW coastline was hit with strong winds and large, powerful swell restricting any attempts over the weekend,” it said.

Despite its predicament, Dick reported the whale was moving just as quickly as the three others in its pod. Although its movement appeared restricted.

NPWS has collected several other drone images since the whale was first seen on the NSW South Coast late on Thursday afternoon. After reviewing these, it confirmed the animal was fast moving and its entanglement is “complex, dangerous” and “difficult to remove”.

It’s expected the whale will reach Port Macquarie on Monday. NPWS said “everything” is being done to monitor its movement north, and a rescue attempt will be made at the “earliest safe opportunity”.

The public are asked to remember there are protection and exclusion zones around whales, including a 100 metre distance for all drones. Anyone who spots the whale can call in the sighting to NPWS on 1300 072 757 or ORRCA on 02 9415 3333.

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