Beachgoers watch as young whale trapped in shark nets just metres offshore

·News and Video Producer
·3-min read

Shark nets off Queensland’s Sunshine Coast have entangled a young whale, taking this season’s state tally to three.

Concerned beachgoers first noticed the struggling humpback just after 7.30am as they stood on the sand at Mooloolaba.

Phone calls began flooding in to local whale watching operator Sunreef, who sent out a boat to check on the animal’s welfare and authorities were contacted. 

Beachgoers became concerned after seeing a young humpback entangled in shark nets. Source: SunReef
Beachgoers became concerned after seeing a young humpback entangled in shark nets. Source: SunReef

Photos taken from the boat show a crowd of people watching the whale from the shore, with a row of high-rise buildings just back from the popular tourist beach clearly visible in the background.

While shark net entanglements are rare at Mooloolaba, they consistently occur across Queensland’s beaches during whale migration season.

Sunreef general manager Matt Davis told Yahoo News Australia he wishes the government would “look at the evidence” and remove the control devices.

“I personally don’t think they’re a necessary piece of equipment to be out there in the water,” he said.

“I think there’s other ways to manage any concerns (about beach safety).'

Minister says human life comes first amid calls to ban shark nets

This morning’s incident at Mooloolaba was “entirely preventable”, according to Sea Shepherd who calculated that at least 27 whales have been caught in Queensland waters in the last five years.

Calling on the state’s Fisheries Minister Mark Furner to take down the nets, a campaigner from the conservation group, Jonathan Clark, said the predictability of entanglements is making them feel “deliberate”.

His comments have been echoed by Humane Society International marine biologist Lawrence Chlebeck who said it is “long past time” the nets were removed.

“(Shark nets) provide nothing more than a false sense of security and entangle and kill marine wildlife,” he said.

“The Minister’s own Scientific Working Group recommended that the nets be removed during whale migration season. Why has this advice been ignored?”

Minister Furner responded in a statement, saying the Palaszczuk Government “will always put human life first”.

He confirmed that the government has no plans to remove shark control program equipment from Queensland waters, but said they are investigating alternatives.

“We are investing $1 million per year in new technologies and innovation,” he said.

“We will not make changes until we have alternatives that are backed by science and appropriate for Queensland conditions.”

Whale frees itself, damaging nets which will be replaced

Queensland’s Fisheries Department confirmed the trapped juvenile was accompanied by an adult whale which was swimming free.

While boats kept a safe distance from the whale, a drone was able to get a clearer view of its situation. Source: SunReef / Sea Shepherd
While boats kept a safe distance from the whale, a drone was able to get a clearer view of its situation. Source: SunReef / Sea Shepherd

Footage supplied by Sea Shepherd appears to show the netting caught around the young whale's tail which prevents it from swimming away. 

Fisheries Queensland Acting Shark Control Program Manager Tracey Scott-Holland said a contractor witnessed the animal get free of the nets at around 10am.

Authorities are now planning to replace the damaged equipment.

Shark nets a bad look for tourism, critics say

Sea Shepherd estimate at least 27 whales have been caught in Queensland's nets over the last five years, however most whales have been released by authorities.

The control devices have been documented killing dolphins and sharks, as well as netting sea turtles, and when it comes to Australia’s international tourism reputation, Mr Clark says entangling wildlife is not a good look.

“It’s ridiculous, internationally whales are recognised as great drawcard for tourists, and we say come and watch them, while on the other hand they’re refusing to even take them out for migrations,” he said.

“Mooloolaba’s an iconic beach, people come from far and wide to go there, and what a terrible tourism message that we’re capturing these animals off beaches right where everyone can see.”

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