Divers Free Whale Sharks Caught In Fishermen’s Nets

Two divers recently freed a pair of whale sharks that had become entangled in fishing nets, and a wildlife photographer was on hand to document the astonishing rescue.

The whale sharks became trapped in a massive fishing net off Mafia Island in Tanzania in November, according to the Daily Mail, necessitating a rescue by several divers. Chris Rohner and Clare Prebble entered the water in a bid to free the large fish, and photographer Simon Pierce, who is the principal scientist for the Marine Megafauna Foundation, documented the unusual encounter.

“Once the net had been pulled together the whale sharks approached the surface and Chris swam in to check they were okay,” he recalled.

Many whale sharks display scars from becoming entangled in nets.

Pierce continued, “The larger shark eventually swam right up to the net so the fishers lowered the floats so he could swim across without tangling. The shark gave a couple of big kicks and swam away fine before the second, smaller shark followed.”

The two whale sharks, measuring 8 meters and 5 meters, escaped the nets with no injury, but not all of the large animals are so lucky, Pierce explained.

“A lot of the sharks have entanglement scars so it’s obvious this can be a problem,” he observed.

The techniques used by fishermen often put them at odds with the whale sharks, according to Pierce, who noted that both are pursuing the same prey.

“The main conservation challenge there is conflict between fishermen and sharks. The fishers use nets to catch small fish and tuna which feed on the same little shrimps the whale sharks eat. They look for schools of fish on the surface and quickly run a net around them. The fish are trapped within the loop and the net is pulled in by hand. It’s hard, labor-intensive work with 30-50 fishers on each boat. If whale sharks are amongst the fish then they often get enclosed in the net themselves.”

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of up to 40 feet, according to National Geographic. Despite their imposing size, the animals pose little danger to humans, as they feed primarily on plankton.

Earlier this year, a man was struck by a whale shark while free diving in the Atlantic. As the Inquisitr previously reported, Chris Coates was blind to the animal’s approach until the last second, and was inadvertently rammed by the whale shark, though he sustained no permanent injuries.

[Images: Simon Pierce via the Daily Mail]