LIHUE — The entangled whale shark seen off the coast of Maui in early July was cut free from about 150 pounds of line on Sunday off the coast of Lanai.
“The reason we know it was the same one is we have a database of pictures of unique individuals,” said Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective’s Travis Marcoux.
He continued: “The entanglement was similar and you could see the original cuts in the line that were made off Molokini.”
The shark was first sighted July 8 off Maui’s south shore and then again on July 12 along the backside of Molokini, where an unsuccessful attempt was made to free it.
Sunday, a family out on a snorkel trip finished the cuts and set the juvenile free.
Marcoux and others found out about the mission to free the shark from a Facebook post, which shows a video of the effort with a caption saying it took five dives into deep water to cut the shark free.
Teamwork was a major player in this rescue, and multiple cuts from multiple people finally severed the line.
“A lot of people think they can just go down and make one cut with a knife, but it’s a heavy gauge line,” Marcoux said. “The line was already frayed and these guys were able to cut through enough of the line to break it off.”
While the juvenile whale shark seen off Molokini was freed, there’s another one still cruising around Hawaii waters with almost the same entanglement — and Marcoux was the one who spotted it off the coast of Hawaii Island July 20.
He was the surface officer on an Atlantis Submarine dive when he got a call over the radio that there was a whale shark near them.
“Sure enough, there was an individual, about 15 feet long, entangled in a line similar to the one on Maui,” he said. “Being the same size class my inclination was that the same individual cruised past Molokini and went on on to the Big Island, but it was a different individual.”
He and his crew followed the shark for about half an hour before it disappeared into deeper waters.
“Keep your eyes on the water,” Marcoux said. “Since we had two individuals that are entangled may be indicative of a larger problem.”
The post that details the salvation mission for the Molokini whale shark says the line was retrieved, and Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective staff members are itching to get their hands on it.
“It’s invaluable to us,” he said. “Possibly we could learn where the line came from, what type of material it is, and what its use was.”
That’s not the only information useful for Hawaii Uncharted, which is tracking the movements of whale sharks and bolstering their database of individuals in Hawaii waters.
That’s where the public comes into play — take photos and report sightings of any whale sharks to the Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective to help them with their mission. All of that can be done online.
Photos helped identify the shark freed off of Lanai and have helped identify the second entangled whale off of Hawaii Island. People getting involved and being willing to help out was also a big part of the response.
“Hats off for an outstanding effort,” Marcoux said.