Did the Queensland Government kill this whale? Call for removal of shark nets during whale migration
A deep dive into whale entanglements and attempted rescues.
Video duration 08.38 minutes
Narrated by Andre Borell, Envoy Foundation and Eric Bana, Envoy: Shark Cull film
As featured on Envoy Foundation YouTube Channel
Full Video Transcript:
With the start of humpback season, fast approaching on the East Coast of Australia, tens of thousands of these majestic animals are headed along the 'humpback highway'. And when they hit New South Wales and especially Queensland, they're going to face a very big risk in their migration. And that is entanglement in shark net. So let's take a look at what shark nets are. Why do we place them on a migration path? And what risk do they pose to these amazing animals on their annual migration. Last year on a crisp sunny winter morning on the gold coast, local residents in Coolangatta were woken to the loud and desperate exhales of a humpback whale that was caught in the shark net of their local beach. This happened near the end of whale migration season on the East Coast of Australia that sees tens of thousands of humpbacks who earlier came from Antarctica all the way up to the Great Barrier Reef. Now heading back to their Antarctic feeding grounds.
Most humpbacks made it back to Antarctica safely. However, some just like every year fell foul of New South Wales and especially Queensland shark nets, including this particular whale in Coolangatta. Anyone who spent time in the water with these animals know they have an almost other worldly presence about them. Seeing them struggle for their life in a net placed there by us, all for a false sense of security, is simply heartbreaking. First of all, for those new to the topic, let's explain what shark nets are. Here's a scene from our feature film, Envoy: Shark Cull, that explains what they are and how they work.
(01:34) Scene from Envoy: Shark Cull narrated by Eric Bana
Shark nets in Queensland are 186 meters wide by six metres. Hang from the surface and sit in water 12 metres deep. Shark nets in New South Wales are 150 metres by six meters, anchored to the sea floor. Also in water, 12 metres deep. Both programs cover only a tiny portion of any given beach, allowing sharks ample opportunity to swim over, under, around and towards beaches. In fact, a high percentage of sharks are caught inside the nets. They've already been to the beach and are peacefully making their way back out to sea.
Now, these nets, they're not supposed to catch dolphins and whales. They have a device on them that emit high pitch sound. That's supposed to repel dolphins and whales. Now let's just say, they're not really working. Since these devices were fitted, they've still caught literally dozens of humpback whales and hundreds of dolphins. Now back to the whale from Coolangatta that was trapped in one of these nets last season, the attempted rescue of this whale took almost 48 hours. Now when an animal like a humpback whale is caught in a shark net and it can't release itself, rescue teams are required. Now rescue teams are sometimes from the very government agency that place those nets there in the first place. And sometimes they're from independent rescue organizations. Now the rescuers on these rescue teams, they literally risk life and limb. It is a dangerous, dangerous task to rescue an animal like a humpback from a net. Now this particular whale became entangled and was reported to authorities when its struggle and cries were heard at daybreak, the following morning.
Two days of rescue attempts ensued after an unsuccessful first day, a GPS tracker was attached to the whale so that it could be relocated at first light the next morning, and the rescue efforts could continue. Now, what you're watching right now is some footage that was released to the media that night after the first day of rescue attempts, the community held its collective breath for the night and in the morning, the good news was the whale was found and still alive. A second marathon day of rescue efforts commenced ending with the whale being reported as successfully released, but still dragging some equipment.
Here's what SeaWorld had to say about the supposed successful rescue of this whale:
"A small portion of the equipment was unable to be removed. However, the whale was able to swim freely and after monitoring for a period of time, we left it to continue on its journey." - SeaWorld
Now here's where the story takes a bit of a weird turn. The footage that was released after day two of the rescue, it looked well, odd. Watch till the end. And you'll see that it looks a little bit strange when the whale swims off.
Now see how that footage ends just before the tail of the whale is shown? We and many other people found that really, really strange. And what do you know? A couple of days later, what we suspected was confirmed. Here's some footage a couple of days later. Have a look at how much equipment it's still dragging, massive fluorescent buoys, there's chain, there's netting. It was not what was made out by SeaWorld. And it was not what was made out by the government that places these shark nets there. Now was that intentionally misleading? Was it a simple case of miscommunication? We don't know, but one thing's for sure is that does not make a difference to that particular whale. That whale is dragging a lot of equipment. It's got a long, long way to go, and it's gonna have a really hard time avoiding predators with those bright fluorescent buoys attached and also hunting once they get to their feeding grounds in Antarctica.
The fate of this whale is technically unknown. They didn't put a GPS tracker back on it after the second day of rescue, however many people in the know, including SeaWorld suspect this whale is probably dead. We're about to put up a quote that is from SeaWorld.
It's not directly about this whale, but it's about whales dragging equipment, just like this one from Coolangatta and what consequence that has to the rest of the life for that whale :
"When they cut off some of the net, the whale will swim off quite nicely, but unfortunately it's still a death sentence. Any material around that fluke means the whale will end up succumbing." - SeaWorld
Let's ignore for a second, the shark nets are not fit for purpose. They do not keep people safe. Let's for a second focus on the 90 humpback whales that have been caught in shark nets since 1992. The side effects of this program to our marine wildlife that we love to put on tourism posters and use to bring visitors to our beautiful state are disastrous. The short term win for humpback whales at least, is for the states to remove the shark nets for whale migration season. New South Wales do currently remove their shark nets from the beginning of May until the end of August.
The big villain here, however, is Queensland. Their own Department of Fisheries' Scientific Working Group have recommended the same for their state, removal of shark nets during whale season. But this recommendation has so far been ignored by the Minister for Fisheries, Mark Furner. We need to implore our politicians, especially Mark Furner, to listen to reason and to listen to science. If not the total modernisation of the program, which is overdue, at least the removal of this barbaric equipment, for whale migration season. Caring for these majestic amazing animals may not be enough, for Mark Furner. Listening to a scientific working group from his own Department may not be enough for Mark Furner, but the prospect of losing votes might just be. So let's speak up and let's do it loud.
Call or email Mark Furner's Office:
+61 7 3719 7420
Mark Furner is the Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries. Call or email Mark Furner's Office and ask for the modernisation of the shark control program, or that at least Queensland remove the nets during whale migration season.