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Whale rescue: Humpback calf caught in shark net at Soldiers Beach

November 6, 2015 by Geraldine Cardozo  

The Daily Telegraph

A baby whale trapped in a shark net off Norah Head today has been freed in a dramatic rescue as crews battled the elements to cut the animal free.

A Wyong Council lifeguard was almost knocked off his jetski as he worked with rescuers to free the juvenile humpback whale which was caught in a net 500 metres off Soldiers Beach.

Whale expert Ronnie Ling, of marine mammal rescue organisation ORRCA watched on anxiously as the crews from the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Industries battled strong easterly winds and dangerous surf conditions to try and release the calf.

“I am bloody ecstatic. This could have so easily gone pear-shaped,” the ORRCA president said.

“We don’t know how long the calf was stuck there. But there was a real possibility of the calf drowning and its condition would have been deteriorating as it struggled in the water,” he said.

Wyong Council lifeguard Scott Higgins described the “heart-pumping” moment he was nearly hit by the calf’s mother breaching in the water as “the scariest thing I’ve even seen in my entire life”.

“I was out there to look after the guys who were releasing the whale and it just came out of nowhere. I was about five or ten metres away and it breached and nearly got me,” he said.

ORCCA was called to Soldier’s Beach about 7.30am after a member of the public spotted the calf in distress.

When lifeguard Mr Higgins first headed out on a jetski to assess the situation at about 9am he confirmed the calf’s tail was caught in a net and the mother was swimming nearby.

“I got fairly close before the mother came up and swam right at me. It was pretty intimidating - it was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen and was like a bus coming at me,” he said.

“From what I could see it was a small humpback whale caught in part of a shark net, possibly by its tail. It didn’t look happy but was quite near the surface and could breathe.”

A NPWS disentanglement team was helped by a crew from a Department of Primary Industries boat. The whale was finally cut free around 1.30pm.

The rescue comes as marine experts meet today at a shark summit to discuss ways to manage sharks on Central Coast beaches.

Mr Ling, who was due to attend the summit, said ORCCA is seeing “more and more entanglements every year”.

“It is exhilarating to be able to release an animal from what is a manmade problem,” he said.

Surfing coach Sandra English said this was the first time she had seen a whale caught in a net at Soldiers Beach.

“I don’t like shark nets for this reason. They’re pointless, especially at this beach where we don’t see many sharks here anyway,” she said.

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