Bilinga residents Larissa Searle and her partner Rayne Fouche have been through an emotional ordeal since they witnessed a baby whale drown in the shark nets in front of their place.
Distraught, frustrated and infuriated Larissa tells their story.
It’s Sunday July 20 about 11.30am. From their second floor balcony Larissa and Rayne notice something “splashing around” in the shark nets out the front of their place.
A few minutes later they realise it’s a whale.
“We realised it was likely a whale because there was another larger one swimming around nearby quite distressed swimming back and fourth.”
“We observed a couple of flippers come out of the water and we said “Oh gosh”, so we got on the phone straight away.”
“We rang everyone we could think of to try and get help.”
They keep an eye on the two whales, one panicking and getting itself more tangled in the shark net, the other fretting and swimming in circles, while they ring 000, the Queensland Fisheries Hotline, Sea World and all the Surf Life Saving clubs in the area.
Larissa gets through to 000, the Marine Animal Release Team Hotline and Tugun Surf Lifesaving Club, but she wishes now that she and Rayne had just done something themselves to help the baby whale, while it was still alive
Larissa can tell the bigger whale is distressed by the way it’s moving around, staying close to the smaller whale caught in the sharknet.
“You don’t see them moving around like that. Moving back and fourth, not leaving the location, just swimming around that location.”
Then the Westpac helicopter arrives and hovers above it for a while, but the trapped whale’s efforts to free itself are obviously getting weaker.
After the chopper flys off, a jetski from the surf club turns up and that’s the last time Larissa and Rayne see the whale alive.
“We lost sight of it when the jetski was out there.”
“We went down the beach to get his [the jetski’s] attention and he went back and fourth along the nets and he stopped right where we’d seen the splashing, so we thought he’s seen something.”
The jetski rider comes in and tells Larissa, Rayner and others gathered on the beach he could see something under the water, but doesn’t say it is alive.
He says he is not allowed to interfere with the shark nets so he can’t do anything.
This is when Larissa and Rayne decide to go out there themselves. They swim out with goggles and flippers. It’s quite shallow. They dive down but the 4m whale is lifeless on the bottom. “It couldn’t get anymore tangled.” They take some video. The mother is still around but further out to sea.
When they come in they call Fisheries again to update them and get told the boat is still on its way. It doesn’t get there until after 2pm, by which time the mother has gone.
Larissa estimates the time it took from the whale splashing to disappearing under water took 15 minutes.
“I wish we’d known. I wished straight away that we’d just went out there. I wouldn’t have known that it was gonna take… I don’t know… You just don’t think when you call these things in… In whale migration season they would have certain protocols in place, because obviously the shark nets are a problem for whales near the coast getting caught in them.
“I’d assume that they’d thought about this and they’d respond quickly and not take three hours to get out there.
“So we’re both… it was so distressing… just thinking if we’d just… as soon as we’d seen something out there and have a look and see… if we could have done something earlier you know maybe it would still be alive.
“And after that, finding out another whale had been caught a stone throw away in the nets near Coolangatta/Kirra, it made it that much harder.
“Like when the discussion comes up about shark nets about whether we are going to keep them or get rid of them, you just get a resounding “no” like no one’s going to go anywhere.
“When you hear about animals getting caught, it’s frustrating but when you actually experience it, such a beautiful creature, it’s horrible.
“So just coming away from that, my partner felt the same way too, we feel like people need to see the footage of where these shark nets so called mitigation fail and destroy the beautiful marine life.”
She says the shark nets are just there for peace of mind and hopes when people watch the video they will speak up, so the Gold Coast can be shark net free during the humpback’s migration season.
There is some discussion on social media about the type of whale that was killed in the net, with it possibly being a brydes, minke or humpback whale.
To find out more about the whale’s migration and where in the Antarctic the humpbacks are migrating from click here.
The whale video was filmed by Rayne Fouche and posted on Youtube by Gold Coast humpback research group, Humpbacks and Highrises.