DRAMATIC video footage has captured a rare, close-up encounter with a gentle ocean giant, as a Queensland tour operator rescued a distressed 8m humpback whale tangled in a rope.
Tyron van Santen jumped into the water off Rainbow Beach, about 250km north of Brisbane, to detangle the giant juvenile whale on Wednesday morning, while leading a group of 18 tourists on a whale and dolphin spotting kayak tour.
The 36-year-old said the freshly scarred mammal had clearly been desperately trying to free itself from a rope that had disabled one of its flippers, and, incredulously, appeared to be asking the group for help.
“We get some close encounters with whales usually they come up and check us out and move on but this one sort of sat there,” he said.
“It just kept coming right up to the kayak, so we moved away a couple of times to give it some space and it kept coming over.
“It turned on its side and it was kind of like it was trying to show us something.
“It flipped around and showed us its flipper with a rope around it, so I just sat there and watched it for a couple more minutes and it kept doing it, and I thought, ‘I think I’m going to try and help this out’.”
As a member of the largely international tourist group filmed, Mr van Santen jumped into the water and worked for a couple of minutes to free the giant creature’s flipper.
In the five years he has run his Tin Can Bay based Epic Ocean Adventures with partner Sean Permezel, it was the first time he had been able to touch one of the majestic beasts.
Remarkably, he said he felt no fear going to the animal’s rescue.
“I didn’t feel threatened at all, I was just really amazed by its ability to try and communicate with us,” he said.
“I’ve got so much respect for them too because I know how powerful they are. I wouldn’t jump in with any whale but I just felt like this one needed help.”
It was only after detangling the whale’s flipper that Mr van Santen realised the rope led to the humpback’s mouth and that much of it was also in the creature’s stomach.
Mr van Santen said while it remained close to the shore in the area for the remainder of the day after he set it free, it had disappeared the following day.
Queensland parks and wildlife officers were called but are believed to have lost track of the whale’s location.
Mr van Santen said he hoped they could identify it to see if it needed further help.
“It still looked like it had energy after I freed it, I’m just hoping it has travelled north with all the other whales, and maybe possibly resting in Hervey Bay,” he said.
Until then, the adventure operator said it was now dawning on him just how unique his ocean experience had been.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal when it happened, the adrenaline was flowing, but looking back, I felt really small beside it and then it just kicks in now it’s a pretty big moment,” he said.
Humpback whales are a common sight off Queensland coasts throughout the winter months, as they make their annual northern migration.
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