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Humpback Whale Freed After Being Entangled in Shark Net in Australia [VIDEO]

Jul 26, 2013 05:48 PM EDT

A humpback whale was freed from an entanglement of shark net Friday off the Noosa coast in Queensland, Australia, but the local government has rejected calls to get rid of the nets altogether, citing their necessity to keep beachgoers safe.

The 8.5-meter (27.9 foot) long whale was completely wrapped in the net when it was spotted by surfers Friday morning. Volunteers spent several hours freeing the whale.

"As far as our rescues go, it's probably the best one we've ever had," Russell Overton, of the Queensland Fisheries and Boating Patrol, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Overton said the humpback swam into the net and got it caught in its mouth, and as the whale tried to push through the net it, it pushed the netting over itself. The whale's pectoral fin and tail were caught in the nets holes, Overton said, preventing the whale from swimming free.

The nets, which are fitted with low-frequency noise "pingers" to keep whales and other marine mammals away, are in place along the Queensland coast to protect swimmers and surfers from sharks. Last year the netting systems ensnared 713 sharks, most of which were tiger sharks and bull sharks, according to Queensland government data.

The entangled humpback was the first whale to become caught in the netting system this season and the 35th since 2000. Now that it has been freed, it is expected that the whale will continue migrating north.

When whales and other marine life get caught in the nets it frequently renews calls for them to come down. But the local government says the nets increase safety of swimmers in the water.

"While shark control equipment does not provide an impenetrable barrier between swimmers and sharks, it is effective in reducing the overall number of sharks in the area, making it a safer place to swim," said Jeff Krause, manager of Queensland's shark control program, according to The Guardian.

"Since the start of the program over 50 years ago, there has been one shark fatality at a shark control beach in Queensland," he said, adding, "Human safety must come first and that's why we're committed to this program."

The Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) has called for the nets removal, at least during the winter when whales migrate along the Australian coast.

"These nets catch a whole range of life," Darren Kindleysides, director of the AMCS, told The Guardian.

"Western Australia looked at a shark net program, but decided it wasn't the route to go down because of the environmental impact.

"There are other alternatives to protect beachgoers. The state could increase beach surveillance and flyovers which are more environmentally friendly," he said.

"The bottom line is that these nets give a perceived sense of safety. The nets have big gaps where the sharks can swim through, so it's not really a barrier, it's just a large fishing net to kill sharks. There is little sense to them."

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