Oil Rig Workers Free Whale Shark Trapped by Rope

Crew on the rig in Erawan gas field attempting to free a whale shark from rope trapping its tail on Oct. 19, 2019. Photo: Nat Panupong Taps / Facebook
Crew on the rig in Erawan gas field attempting to free a whale shark from rope trapping its tail on Oct. 19, 2019. Photo: Nat Panupong Taps / Facebook

GULF OF THAILAND — Workers on an oil rig 140 kilometers off the shore of Nakhon Si Thammarat saved a whale shark by untying ropes wrapped around it.

A worker on the rig in Erawan gas field belonging to Chevron Thailand Exploration and Production took to his Facebook on Saturday to tell of a rescue operation to free a whale shark from a rope that was tied around its tail.

“This is the first time we have to struggle with a whale shark. She was so powerful, but our efforts paid off,” reads a Facebook post by user Nat Panupong Taps. “She was swimming towards the platform and we were hoping for her to get closer and grab her.”

In a video shared nearly 2,000 times, six crewmen are seen hauling the shark to the deck against rough seas as another member attempted to cut the 15 meters-long rope from its tail.

The rescue operation reportedly took more than 30 minutes before the shark was freed.

Kasetsart University’s marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat said on Facebook the rope may have been fastened to its tail by fishermen who might have tried to drag it from a fishing net, but the shark managed to escape.

“The rope can inflict wounds to the shark’s body. If it stays longer, barnacles will start to build up on it, causing more injuries,” Thon said in his Sunday Facebook post. “Chances for the rope to naturally loosen are unlikely since the rope is so wide, which can take years for it to degrade naturally.”

Thon said several whale sharks were tied up with a rope like this before over the past years, but he said it is difficult to prevent such incidents from happening and that there should be a practical method to rescue sharks from fishing nets.

“We can’t stop fishing as it is perfectly legal. Asking fishermen to stop dragging whale sharks using ropes is easy to say, but hard to implement at sea during the nighttime,” Thon said.

Most users on Facebook are praising the crew. “Thank you every crew member for saving her. It must be a tough job for you but you did it,” Facebook user Pitiya Sringkarnpeampoon commented.

In April, workers on another rig belonging to the same company saved a dog found at sea about 200 kilometers from the Songkhla shore. The dog was believed to have fallen off a fishing trawler and later nicknamed by the crew as “Boon Rod,” or survivor. He is now living at a crew member’s home in Khon Kaen.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the animal was a Bryde’s whale. In fact, it was a whale shark.

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