Heartbreaking moment giant sperm whale is caught in a fishing net

Heartbreaking moment giant sperm whale is caught in a fishing net

July 19, 2020

Heartbreaking moment giant sperm whale is caught in a fishing net off Italian coast as expert divers battle to cut it free

  • Boaters on Saturday spotted the struggling sperm whale near Aeolian Islands
  • In a coast guard video a diver can be seen slicing away some of the huge netting
  • Operation to free the whale was particularly difficult ‘due to its state of agitation’

This is the heartbreaking moment a giant sperm whale gets caught in a fishing net off the Italian coast.  

Coast guard divers and biologists were working today near a tiny Mediterranean island to free the animal. 

In a coast guard video, a diver can be seen slicing away some of the net in the waters surrounding the Aeolian Islands archipelago. 

This is the heartbreaking moment a giant sperm whale gets caught in a fishing net off the Italian coast

Boaters on Saturday had spotted the struggling sperm whale in that stretch of the Tyrrhenian Sea off Italy’s west coast and contacted the coast guard.

The operation to free the sperm whale was particularly difficult ‘due to its state of agitation’ that didn’t allow for continual intervention near the whale, the coast guard said Sunday. 

Three weeks ago, the Italian coast guard freed another sperm whale ensnared in a fishing net, also in the sea off the Aeolian Islands. 

Since the start of the year, the coast guard has sequestered illegal fishing nets totalling more than a 100 kilometers (62 miles) in length.

The coast guard says it has stepped up its efforts this year to combat illegal fishing. 

‘Bycatch’ is the term given to the accidental capture of marine life in fishing gear. 

It is a global issue, affecting many different species including seals, turtles and sea birds.

It’s estimated that at least 300,000 cetaceans (aquatic mammals) are caught in this way every year, according to The International Whaling Commission.  

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT SPERM WHALES?

Sperm Whales belong to the suborder of toothed whales and dolphins, known as odontocetes, and is one of the easiest whales to identify at sea. 

The creatures gained their name during the days of commercial whaling.

Whalers thought that their large square heads were huge reservoirs for sperm, because when the head was cut open it was found to contain a milky white substance.

An intestinal secretion called ambergris found in sperm whales was used as a fixative in the perfume industry.

At one time, it was worth more than its weight in gold but this is no longer the case.

Sperm whales gained their name during the days of commercial whaling. Whalers thought that their large square heads were huge reservoirs for sperm, because when the head was cut open it was found to contain a milky white substance

Its skin is dark or brownish grey, with white markings around the lower jaw and underside. It has relatively short, stubby flippers and a low hump instead of a dorsal fin. 

Its diet is largely made up of squid. The creatures have a life expectancy roughly equivalent to a human’s, at around 70 years.

Males grow to around 18.3 metres (60 feet), with females reaching 12 metres (40 feet). Their young, or calfs, grow to around 3.5 metres (11 feet).

They have a maximum weight of around 57,000 kilograms (125 tonnes) for males.

The sperm whale’s huge head, which is up to 1/3 of its overall body length, houses the heaviest brain in the animal kingdom.

It also contains a cavity large enough for a small car to fit inside which holds a yellowish wax known as spermaceti oil, thought to help in buoyancy control when diving and act as an acoustic lens.

They have between 40 and 52 teeth in their long, narrow lower jaw which are thick and conical, and can grow to 20cm (eight inches) long and weigh 1kg (two pounds) each.

The sperm whale is one of the deepest diving mammals in the world, regularly making dives of up to 400 metres (1,300 feet) sometimes reaching depths of up to two to three kilometres (one to two miles)

It is thought to be able to hold its breath for up to two hours, although 45 minutes is the average dive time.

Sperm whales are found in most of the world’s oceans, except the high Arctic, and prefer deep waters.

The exact current worldwide population is not known, but it is estimated at around 100,000. The sperm whale is listed as a vulnerable species.

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