Sperm Whale gets entangled in net

by firmm Team

Fluke with long rope
Fluke with long rope

Text: Katharina and Brigitte, Photos: Beltrán Rodríguez and Rafael Fernández Caballero/Asociación Nereide

On the three-hour trip on the 10th of July at 4 pm we unfortunately had to make a sad and frightening discovery: A Sperm Whale had got caught in a huge fishing net.

We had heard about the entangled animal and therefore we started to look for him with already increasing Levante (easterly wind).

The wind was already blowing with a force of 3-4 (force 4 corresponds to about 20-28 km/h). After looking around for a while we could finally see him for a short moment on the right side of our boat. It almost seemed as if he wanted to ask us for help. Before that he had already appeared near another boat.

The sight was heart-breaking, especially when we realized that we could not help the poor animal. It was clear to us that divers would be needed to free the whale from the net.

The net had wrapped itself tightly around his head and even on the tail he pulled a long rope behind him. His freedom of movement was severely restricted, and it should be difficult for him to eat, if this was at all possible. The divers would not have been able to reach him in this strong wind and the current was also very forceful. He was pulled away from us very quickly and shortly afterwards we lost sight of him completely. With a heavy heart we had to leave him to his fate.

In the meantime, a team of specialised divers from the Ministry for Ecological Change and the Andalusian Centre for Marine Environmental Management (CEGMA) of the Strait have already prepared to free the Sperm Whale. However, they must wait until the weather conditions improve. The weather forecast is not very promising.

Unfortunately, the fate of the whale is by no means an isolated case. Fishing nets often become a trap for whales, dolphins but also other animals like turtles and sharks.

Worldwide, millions of old fishing nets drift through the ocean, either lost or deliberately "disposed of" in the sea. According to the latest studies, these so-called ghost nets make up between 30 and 50 percent of marine plastic. These nets then float through the water like giant walls and continue fishing uncontrolled for decades. Fortunately, in the meantime, there are projects and organizations that are addressing this problem and are trying to recover the ghost nets. Not an easy task because of the size and the weight of these nets.

Globally 344 species have been found trapped in plastics. In the Mediterranean, the main victims are birds (35%), fish (27%), invertebrates (20%), marine mammals (13%) and sea turtles. Plastics can cause injuries, lesions and deformities (including during growth), and prevent animals from being able to move in order to escape predators, swim and feed, with almost always fatal consequences: the animals die from hunger, drowning or because they become easy prey (Source WWF 2018- Out of the plastic trap. Saving the Mediterranean from plastic pollution).

Therefore, the primary goal of all of us should be to prevent this plastic waste from getting into the sea in the first place. In this way, perhaps many animals could be spared the fate of our poor Sperm Whale.

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