Two ocean divers leading a tour in the Arabian Sea were swept into an extraordinary rescue mission after encountering a whale shark tangled in a long length of rope. The extraordinary rescue and the shark’s subsequent swim to freedom were caught on camera.
Divers Simone Musumeci and Antonio Di Franca from Macana Maldives tour agency were leading a guided dive near the island of Fuvahmulah, Maldives, in December 2019. While exploring the richly populated waters, the tour was suddenly gatecrashed by a gentle giant with a thick rope tangled around its neck.
Just as the divers were returning to the boat, guide Gianluca, who was on board, shouted, “Whale shark!” Simone recalled, speaking to Caters News. “I immediately put my breathing mask back on and looked under the water,” she added. “I saw a majestic animal swimming towards us with a huge rope around its neck.”
The gentle whale shark began cruising the area around the dive tour’s boat.
Simone and Antonio, recognizing the need for intervention, jumped back into the water with their diving knives ready. And as the shark allowed them to get near, they were able to start working on sawing through the rope, which was tied tightly around its neck region and was cutting deeply into its front fins. The huge shark’s constant movement initially impeded their efforts to sever the rope, however.
Making a second attempt, Simone and Antonio managed to saw through the tough fibers and remove the rope, emancipating the spectacular creature. “It took us about ten minutes to free the shark while it dragged us around,” said Simone, “as we were holding on to the rope to a depth of around fourteen meters.”
Incredible video taken from the rescue shows their efforts. The rope left a deep gash in the whale shark’s skin, yet the creature appeared noticeably relieved having been freed, and also seemed reluctant to simply swim away immediately.
“When the rope finally came off, the animal stood still for a moment as if it realized it was free,” said Simone, “then it slowly swam downwards into the depths of the sea. A few moments later it appeared again, and swam closer to us like it wanted to thank us.”
Macana Maldives communications director, Donatella Moica did not believe that the agency would ever find out exactly how, and why, their friendly whale shark became tangled in the rope near the island of Fuvahmulah. “Whale sharks travel great distances,” she told Caters, “and it could have happened somewhere far from the Maldives.”
“It surely had been dragging the rope for a while, considering the marks around its body,” she added.
Simone, recalling the dive tour’s unique whale shark encounter and subsequent rescue, described it as “one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives … we will never forget it.”
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest-known shark species in the world and the largest of all ocean fish, according to World Wildlife Fund. Their diet comprises mostly plankton, for which the whale shark will travel great distances.
Whale sharks inhabit warm, tropical oceans and are popular with snorkelers and divers as they pose no threat to humans. Adult whale sharks are believed to grow up to 20 meters in length, rivaling the size of a double-decker bus.
These gentle giants are protected from fishing in many countries but are nonetheless listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List owing to oil and gas drilling in tropical marine environs.
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