Pacific Whale Foundation skipper Scott Whitcombe wishes he could have done more to help the whale.
Pacific Whale Foundation skipper Scott Whitcombe wishes he could have done more to help the whale. Valerie Horton

Skipper outraged red tape kept him from saving whale

FOR three hours skipper Scott Whitcombe was forced to watch a wounded whale struggle under the cutting weight of heavy ropes in the Bay.

The Pacific Whale Foundation team member wanted to rescue the distressed whale as soon as it was found on Tuesday but government regulations stopped him from doing so.

In Queensland, only the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries' Marine Animal Release Team, qualified Department of Environment and Heritage Protection marine officers and a team from Sea World are allowed to have direct contact with whales in trouble.

These regulations were a source of great frustration for willing rescuers who could only follow with their boats and hope help arrived soon.

"It was the most dramatic image I have seen in the 10 years of working in the whale industry," Mr Whitcombe said.

"We could have freed the whale in 45 minutes. With one cut the whale would have been free. I was willing to jump in and help."

 

A whale entangled in ropes off the coast of Fraser Island on Tuesday.
A whale entangled in ropes off the coast of Fraser Island on Tuesday. Contributed

Even Pacific Whale Foundation founder Greg Kaufman, who had been formally trained in untangling whales, was powerless.

When marine officers finally arrived three hours after the whale was spotted, the gentle giant was still not freed. An EHP spokesperson said failing light and constant movement of the whale were to blame and the animal was left overnight.

Patrols of the ocean yesterday failed to locate the whale.

Whale activist and long-time whale watching guide Vicki Neville likened the search to "looking for a needle in a hay stack."

"The whale was moving quickly from what I heard, probably from being stressed," Ms Neville said. "And once you lose it, it's hard to find."

The whale was bleeding heavily from its dorsal fin and Ms Neville said abandoning the search at dark would have dramatically decreased its chances of survival.

"Whales can survive without a dorsal but the blood would have attracted sharks," she said.

"Being the whale watching capital of the world, we are far behind in our rescue operations.

"A lot more could have been done to save the whale."



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