Great White granted new lease on life!
One often hears tales of dolphins and whales being rescued from nets and lines but it is rare to hear a ‘feel-good’ story of a shark being rescued from entanglement or other distress. Earlier in the year, shark cage operators, Marine Dynamics, pulled off one such rescue when they saved a juvenile white shark from certain death.
Although white sharks are on the protected species list in South Africa, they are still being targeted illegally – mainly by shore fishermen, while an additional 30 sharks are reportedly killed in KZN’s shark nets every year. There is also a suspected Chinese syndicate operating out of Inhambane in Mozambique which targets sharks for their fins which is then exported to Asia to be used for the highly popular Asian dish of shark fin soup. Shark numbers are diminishing rapidly and with the limited funds that is made available to conservationists and law enforcement, the situation isn’t improving. In January of this year, shark cage diving operators notified the Dyer Island Conservation Trust after spotting a shark in grave peril with fishing line wrapped around its head and through its gills while another length of line was trailing behind it with hooks and bait still attached. Wilfred Chivell, owner of Marine Dynamics and founder of the Trust – which runs conservation and research programmes in the region – immediately alerted the Department of Oceans and Coasts and within 48 hours the department had deployed a team of researchers, deck hands, and Two Oceans Aquarium collections fishermen to Gansbaai where the entangled shark was last seen.
White sharks only spend a few weeks at a time in Gansbaai and if the team didn’t find her soon the juvenile female would wander out of the bay and would probably die of her injuries. For several days the shark evaded the rescue team and they started to fear the worst. Bad weather eventually forced the crew ashore and the search for the entangled shark was delayed. Then, early in February the shark was spotted from the Marine Dynamics’ shark tour boat, Slashfin . Shark handler, Khwezi Balena commented: “The shark was very active, and we knew this was our last chance [of disentangling it].”
The crew aboard Slashfin was ready and had prepared a simple line and hook, using a barbless circle hook – as circle hooks are safer for sharks and removing the barb means the hook will easily come free. Fortunately Pieter du Toit, a Springbok angler was also on board at the time and he managed to hook the shark and expertly guide it alongside the boat where the crew hastily started working to free the shark.
They made use of a ‘reverse cutter’ – a tool that is often employed during the disentanglement of whales. It only required two quick cuts to set the big shark free of the fishing line and, to the joy and relief of the crew, it swam away healthily and unhampered. “With any luck, this will be the last time this shark is hooked, and we look forward to seeing her again!” Du Toit said…