Wednesday was just another day out on the boat for Chase Grimes while he headed through Vaca Cut Channel to pick up his spearfishing gear, until he saw a thrashing in the water. Thinking at first the thrashing was being caused by bull sharks fighting or feeding, he went to investigate.
To his surprise, he picked up his cell phone to first call me, because this wasn’t the first time he’d seen the whale shark, and then he called Ryan Butts at The Turtle Hospital.
After days of trying to catch up to the 15-foot-long juvenile whale shark, who lately has taken to Vaca Cut as his transitional home, Butts gave a quick call to Veterinarian Doctor Doug Mader, grabbed a pair of fins and a mask and jumped in the boat at Captain Hooks.
Trailing off the back of the whale sharks tail fin was three feet of fishing line and luckily nothing else.
Grimes drove the boat 10 feet ahead of the whale shark and Butts and Mader made the first attempt to remove the line.
Butts ran his hand down the side of the whale shark grabbing on to the tail, but before he could remove the line, with one horizontal shake of the tail the whale shark was off leaving Butts in its bubbles.
The murky water made the whale shark hard to see from the surface, let alone the 2-foot visibility in the water.
Butts and Mader jumped in the water for a second attempt, and the whale shark took Mader on the ride of his life.
“All I saw were white dots pass by me in the water, and I knew it was the whale shark,” Mader said on the boat holding onto the red and clear monofilament line proudly.
As he saw the whale shark pass by him, he grabbed onto its tail again successfully slipping his knife under the fishing line releasing the whale shark from his trolling line.
Mader and Butts high-fived in the water while the boats that stopped to watch clapped and cheered.
“The fishing line wasn’t going to kill him,” Dr. Mader said. “But, I’m sure it didn’t feel great tied around his tail dorsal fin.”
Mader added that after time, the fishing line could have cut off circulation to the fin and eventually amputated it.
“I just hope he leaves the area soon,” Mader added as boats zoomed past in Vaca Cut Channel.
As an open ocean, mainly pelagic animal, Mader believes the shark is hanging around the area due to the abundance for jelly fish and plankton in the channel at this time. He just hopes the whale shark doesn’t mistake the plastic bags floating by as a jelly fish.
Judging by the way the whale shark reacted to his and Butts presence in the water, Mader believes it is very agitated from others not exercising caution around the gentle giant. “People really need to resist the urge to swim with him, jump on him, or get too close while boating,” he said citing the propeller marks across its fins and back. “Enjoying from a far would be very helpful for its well-being.”
Doctor Mader thinks the whale shark picked the line up while traveling through the bridgework.
“In just reiterating what Doctor Mader and Ryan probably already pointed out, it’s important to convey to people that it is fascinating that this shark is in town, but it has already been hit by boats and it is very important that everyone gives it its distance,” Mary Stella from The Dolphin Research Center said. “We need to give the whale shark its distance to prevent it from sustaining more injuries.”