A remarkable video is making the rounds online showing adventurer Alyssa Vinluan, of Roam the World at Will, helping to rescue a poor whale shark trapped off the coast of Koh Tao, an island in Thailand.
After spending a dive allowing a whale shark to gracefully swim around her, a second dive featured a second whale shark that had a rope tied very tightly to its caudal (tail) fin.
“I could clearly see that the wound was red and raw; the rope was so tight around its tail that it was eating into its flesh,” Vinluan explains in a blog post.
“Dive instructor Michael Scherer (aka Micko) immediately got to work with a small machete that he grabbed from the boat's kitchen! The rope was tied so tight that I worried he wasn't going to be able to cut it off.”
“After thirty seconds of working on the rope, the whale shark became uncomfortable and tossed him off. Amazingly, it circled back around, almost knowing that Micko was there to help and that we meant no harm.”
“On Micko's third try, the rope came free,” she writes. “The whale shark, seemingly feeling the weight lifted, instantly swam off into the distance.”
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are among the most massive types of fish you’ll likely ever find. The largest example ever found was 12.7 meters (about 42 feet) long and weighed about 21.5 tonnes (47,000 pounds). They are docile filter feeders, meaning they feed on plankton and krill drifting in the water column. They can also live for as many as 100 years.
They’re so friendly that they sometimes allow humans to grab onto them and swim around with them – especially if they are juvenile sharks – although this is discouraged by conservationists. Sadly, it’s this docile nature that can get them into trouble with human divers.
As this video clearly shows, more nefarious explorers of the deep can abuse whale sharks – but at least there were some truly benevolent divers around to balance out this grim equation.
“Some tourist boat probably caught it, let tourists touch and poke and pet it as they took selfies, then cut the rope with no regard for any pain on the animal's part,” Vinluan adds. “Either that or it had been tied up in an attempt to capture it, and the whale shark broke free by snapping the rope. We may never know what happened, but at least this beautiful animal is finally free.”
Whale sharks are mostly troubled by fishing activity. Vessel collisions, accidental net capture, and pollution all pose an active threat. Although population estimates are difficult to conduct, they are listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).