Chilean diving team saves whale from certain death

In December, while filming a documentary on the Juan Fernandez archipelago, a team of divers found a humpback whale entangled in a fishing net.


A whale discovered off Chile’s Juan Fernandez Archipelago was saved by a team of divers after it had snagged its tail on a fishing net. The whale, according to biologist Gian Paolo Sanino who was present at the rescue, was bleeding to death and had no hope of being saved.

The rescue was highly dangerous and meant that the dive team had to use special equipment to minimize the risk of becoming tangled. The divers wore small, rare and expensive air bottles known as «ponies.»

“The risk of becoming entangled and taken by the whale was very real,” said Sanino. With enough courage and experience, an experienced diver was able to save this noble animal from dying because of trash left in the sea by irresponsible humans.

“The injury caused by the netting on its tail fin was growing, because whale fins only have bone in the middle section. It couldn’t stand up to the stress of the fin being dragged in the water,” the biologist said.

A whale’s fins act as the main radiator that allows it to regulate its body temperature. While the whale’s body produces and stores heat, the large area of the the fins allows it to transfer excess heat into the water, cooling its body. When the whale becomes hot, it transfers blood to the fin area.

The laceration on the whale’s fin would have cut through the entire lobal section, Sanino explained, without which the animal’s capacity for thermoregulation would be seriously inhibited. “This is not necessarily lethal, but is complicated because the system requires an intricate network of major blood vessels to function. Among these is the caudal artery. As with our femoral artery, the chances of surviving a haemorrhagic lesion there are very slim.”

The netting had come within inches of the whale’s artery when the team of divers found it and cut it free. A large part of the lobe will rot, leaving an ugly scar, but the whale will survive. “While some of the flesh exposed from the wound was already dead, the color of the tissue on the fin was similar and normal, suggesting it was still functional,” said Sanino.

“This is the first documented rescue of an entangled whale in Chile,” Sanino went on to say, mentioning he only knew of one comparable rescue that happened in Peru. Unfortunately, cases of entanglement of large and small cetaceans in Chile are frequent and increasing every day,” he said.