There’s nothing like an animal rescue story to put you in a good mood!
A baby whale shark washed up on to the rocks just off the coast last weekend. Luckily, Jon Goetsch was standing on his balcony and spotted the fish about an hour before it washed up, suspecting that it was in trouble, Goetsch & his 12-year-old son rushed down to the beach to wrestle the fish to safety.
Passers by saw Goetsch & his son battling the breakers, and did not hesitate to get involved in the rescue of the whale shark.
“It took us around an hour to get it off the rocks as it kept washing up again,” Goetsch explains. “And about 45 minutes to get it to leave the bay; it just kept swimming back.”
Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean, and although this was a baby, helping the four-metre shark to safety was no small task. It took the efforts of Goetsch, his family and a handful of bystanders, including teen Calista de Wilzen who rushed over to lend a hand to get the whale shark off the rocks.
“When we were completely exhausted, it was this petit girl, probably no older than 15 years, who, fully clothed, fought against the waves to get the shark behind the breakers,” Goetsch said, “The shark hit the girl with its tail and pushed her around but she never gave up. Even though we were the first to help the shark, she is the heroine of the day and nobody even knows who she is,” he added
The holiday makers were absolutely exhausted after hours of fighting the surf, and on top of that they also suffered “shark burn” – grazes caused by the tiny, tooth-like scales that cover the skin of most shark species. But the rescuers said the injuries were all worth it.
“We’re all divers, and have always wanted to swim with a whale shark. Now we’ve swam, saved and been burned by one! We thought at one point she wouldn’t make it out, but when she finally did, we were so proud and happy.”
Veronica Veltman, a volunteer for the South Africa Marine Rehabilitation Education Centre (SAMREC) suspects that bad weather and a drop in water temperature may have had something to do with the whale shark wash-up. Gale-force winds had been recorded in the area a day or two before the incident, possibly bringing a cold current with them.
According to Veltman, it’s possible that the whale shark became lethargic in the cooler water and drifted into the bay. Officials from SAMREC monitored the beach on Sunday afternoon to make sure that the youngster did not wash up again.
Whale shark strandings have been recorded in various locations around the world, including on the Ecuador and Australian coastlines. Most of these incidents involve juvenile animals and it’s thought that they are particularly susceptible to sudden changes in water temperature and strong wave action.
“They can’t handle waters lower than about 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 F) at the surface,” explains marine biologist Dr. Simon Pierce, who has done extensive research on whale sharks in the area. “Fingers crossed that this one managed to warm up.”
As of the time of posting, there have been no reports of a second stranding, so for now it looks like the young fish made it back out to sea.