CHANGE OF HEART: Scott Whitcombe from Pacific Whale Foundation says he would not longer jump in the water to save an entangled whale.
CHANGE OF HEART: Scott Whitcombe from Pacific Whale Foundation says he would not longer jump in the water to save an entangled whale. Alistair Brightman

Crusader for trapped whales changes tune

SCOTT Whitcombe is fully-trained in rescuing whales trapped in fishing gear.

But even he would not jump into the water to save a whale in distress, single-handed.

The operations manager and skipper for Pacific Whale Foundation said that was a job best left to the experts.

It is a stark change of heart from comments he made two years ago when faced with a whale caught in ropes in Hervey Bay.

At the time, Mr Whitcombe said he felt frustrated by regulations prohibiting him from helping the wounded whale.

"It was the most dramatic image I have seen in the 10 years of working in the whale industry,” Mr Whitcombe said in July 2017.

"We could have freed the whale in 45 minutes. With one cut the whale would have been free. I was willing to jump in and help.”

Speaking to the Chronicle this week, Mr Whitcombe said he no longer agreed with those comments.

Just two months after Mr Whitcombe watched, helpless, as the entangled whale struggled, Canadian fisherman Joe Howlett was killed trying to rescue a right whale.

The news affected Mr Whitcombe deeply and he said he did not want to see the same thing happen to another well-intentioned would-be rescuer.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Science said whale entanglements were particularly dangerous.

"Releasing entangled whales is an extremely dangerous and highly specialised task that requires a unique set of skills and equipment,” they said.

"Community members should not attempt to disentangle whales and are encouraged to call the Queensland Government Wildlife Hotline on 1300 130 372 if they see an entangled whale, and record the whale's condition and position as accurately as possible.”

Mr Whitcombe did not support the idea of creating an independent whale rescue team in Hervey Bay.

Rather, he said the focus should be on teaching the public how to respond, and how to avoid creating problems for marine life in the first place.

He said while many members of Hervey Bay's whale watching fleet had attended stranding and entanglement training, there was more work to be done in educating the community.

"The public needs to be educated to not throw their fishing gear in the water,” he said.

"People don't realise, even throwing a cigarette butt on the ground can cause problems for whales.”



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