RESCUE workers gather to free a whale trapped in a net off Kirra yesterday.
RESCUE workers gather to free a whale trapped in a net off Kirra yesterday. Craig Sadler/Tweed Daily News

Attack on shark nets

THE operators of Tweed Coast whale watching businesses are calling for the removal of shark nets off the coast after another whale became entangled at the weekend.

Bystanders could do nothing but watch from shore as a baby humpback struggled to free itself after becoming entangled in the nets off Kirra beach on Saturday.

It took rescue crews from Sea World and the Queensland's Department of Boating and Fisheries more than two hours to free the six-metre juvenile whale while a female adult humpback, probably its mother, waited anxiously nearby.

The frantic scene was the third whale entanglement in the past month as the mammals head back down the east coast of Australia to cooler waters in the Antarctic, following their annual migration to far north Queensland.

Tweed Heads-based Watersports Guru director Tim Adams yesterday called for the removal of shark nets during the winter to allowed easier passage for migrating whales.

“I would like to see them removed from July through to October to make it easier for the whales,” Mr Adams said.

“Put them back in summer when people are swimming at the beaches.”

Mr Adams said incidents like that on Saturday were damaging Tweed's reputation as a whale watching destination.

“Because the population of humpbacks is growing by 10 per cent each year we are getting more and more through. Entanglements will keep on happening unless we do something.”

Mr Adams did admit removing shark nets would put humans at a greater risk.

“But you have to weigh up the life of a whale to the life of a human. There is a small chance of someone being bitten by a shark if the nets weren't there but to say someone would be killed is a bit extreme,” he said.

Tweed Heads-based Aquatic Blue Charters operator Carol Hunt said the constant entanglements were costing time and money.

“They should take the damn things (shark nets) away,” Mrs Hunt said yesterday.

“Every time it happens it just costs more and more money to fix it, just for it to happen again.”

“It's not just whales, below the surface there are turtles, dolphins and harmless sharks that are dying because they get caught in the nets.”

Hastings Point Marine Environment Centre facilitator Kerrie Trees said the answer was not as simple as removing the net.

“The nets are there to protect one species - humans,” Ms Trees said.

“The answer on what to do isn't as easy.

“I believe we have the technology to develop better strategies that benefit all species. There will always be sacrificial catches in these nets that we unfortunately have to bear.”

On September 1 a humpback was freed at Kirra and last Sunday another suffered tail injuries after being caught in a net off Miami before being released.

Queensland shark control program manager Tony Ham said even after Saturday's entanglement it is not the worst year on record.

“We had five on the Gold Coast one year. Given that about 12,000 humpbacks migrate down the coast each year, it's certainly not a huge number of whales (that become entangled in nets),” Mr Ham said.

“Obviously each one trapped is a concern but given the amount of whales that are there, we'd consider three entanglements fairly normal for us.

“This one wasn't a bad entanglement in terms of how much gear was wrapped around the whale so the boys were able to get it off fairly quickly.”

Mr Ham said he believed the use of acoustic devices, which emit electronic beeps to keep whales away from the nets, were working.

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