20-ft-long whale shark freed from 150-pound rope thanks to Hawaiians who acted on their kuleana

Dec 11, 2018

It is normal to see marine life while diving in the ocean but to see a whale shark entangled in a heavy rope is certainly out of the norm. A family diving off one of Hawaii’s islands were exactly the kind of people the helpless shark needed—alert, caring, and well-prepared with a 4-inch knife.

Kanehoalani Kawelo, his parents, and his sister were diving off Kaunolu on Hawaii’s island of Lanai when they spotted a whale shark swimming next to them. Kanehoalani immediately noticed the 20-foot-long (approx. 6-meter) sea giant entangled in a large rope.

“It looked really sore,” his father, Joby Rohrer, told National Geographic. “There were these three scars from where the rope rubbed into the ridges on her back. The rope had cut probably three inches into her pectoral fin.”

The family didn’t know that it was the same shark that the wildlife officials had asked the public to alert them to if spotted.

ENTANGLED WHALE SHARK SPOTTED ON THURSDAY NEAR MOLOKINIA juvenile whale shark with heavy gauge line wrapped around its…

Posted by Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) on Saturday, July 14, 2018

Being biologists, Kanehoalani’s parents tried to figure out a solution to help the tormented animal.

“We waited a long time to consider what our responsibility was, what our kuleana (a personal sense of responsibility) was,” said his mother, Kapua, to Hawaii News Now.

“We know that people don’t necessarily encourage this type of thing but both of us are biologist. We felt like we were sort of in tune with what the animal was doing and maybe we were meant to be there.”

Posted by Hawaii DLNR (Department of Land and Natural Resources) on Saturday, July 14, 2018

“I’m thinking there’s no way I’m gonna get through that rope it’s so fat,” Rohrer said. “Then Kapua was saying well you should try! But I was thinking if I get close to that animal and touch it, I don’t want to startle the animal, I don’t want to stress the animal out, I don’t want to make it bolt.”

Eventually, Rohrer took five dives to cut through the 5-inch-thick heavy rope with his 4-inch knife. The rescue process took at least an hour.

“The rope weighed probably like 150 pounds (approx. 68 kg),” Kanehoalani’s sister, Hoohila, said. “I was just dragging it in the water and I couldn’t imagine what that shark was going through, having to haul that around everywhere.”

Rohrer hoped that the experience serves as a reminder that mankind’s actions and carelessness can have harmful impacts on marine life.

“That’s a good example of the things that we discard can destroy beautiful animals like that so easily,” he said.

Watch the rescue in the video below:

How’s this for hoʻihoʻi ea and my sister’s birthday. Remember a couple of weeks ago on the news. This whale shark was spotted off of Molokini entangled in a large rope. Folks at the time were unable to free it and DLNR has been looking for it. Well my sister and her family are on Lānaʻi and on Sunday they were diving off of Kaunolū. They saw the whale shark with the rope around it. And as if seeing a whale shark wasn’t cool enough, my bro-in-law Joby, after diving down 5 times in pretty deep water was able to cut the shark free!!!!! They brought the rope to shore and it weighed a whopping 150 lbs ❤️ @dakineguybra2 @hoohilak #lahoihoiea #jobythefruitfly

Posted by Hi'ilei Kawelo on Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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