Thalassophobia is described as “an intense and persistent fear of the sea,” especially the creatures that are found in the depths. Whales can really bring out the Thalassophobia in people due to their massive size, and the humpback whale can grow up to 50 feet long and weigh nearly 40 tons. One of these majestic but nightmare inducing creatures approached a group of kayakers recently, but it wasn’t to attack or provoke fear…it was to ask for help.
Off of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia at the Double Island Point last week, a group of nearly 20 kayakers was approached by a young humpback whale. The whale rubbed himself up next to the kayaks to bring on a bit of fear at first. The whale showed no signs of aggression, though, instead appearing to try to communicate with the humans on their small boats.
The operator of the tour, 36 year old Tyron van Santen, has had encounters with humpback whales before and knew what signs to watch for. The whale raised one flipper out of the water, indicating that he was injured and needed help, not dinner. So van Santen jumped into the water to check on the whale, finding that it had been tangled in fishing rope. The rope had not only caught its flipper, but also left scars on its back.
Needless to say, van Santen was a bit hesitant to help out the whale as there are regulations about getting into the open waters with them. Van Santen said that “I’ve been kayaking out at Double Island Point for five years and I’ve seen quite a few whales come through and this one, I don’t know, it just seemed really placid and it seemed like it really wanted me to help it out.” The sheer size of the whale astonished van Santen, who said that “I felt very small.”
Though van Santen had seen whales before, he had never seen anything like this. He told reporters that “Out of nowhere a juvenile humpback whale pops up in the middle of the kayaks…The whale moved onto its side and tried to show us its flipper three or four times.” After he helped get the whale out of the wire, van Santen noticed that the poor creature had tried to eat the rope to get himself untangled, but to no avail.
“I followed the rope up to its mouth and that’s when I realised it had swallowed it and possibly some other material. At this stage, I couldn’t do much.” He would go on to say that “It was really upsetting obviously and just the initial reaction was to try and help it out as much as I can.” It was then that van Santen made a call to the Department of Parks and Wildlife.
The department closely monitored the whale for a few days to make sure it was going to be fine, but eventually it got away from them and hasn’t been seen for nearly a week. They said that there was no guarantee of success, but thanks to van Santen, at least the whale has a fighting chance out in the wild.
The situation prompted the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to release a statement saying “This is a timely reminder to fishers and other marine users to be mindful of how they store and dispose of gear because of the impact it can have on whales and other wildlife.” They also had to remind people that van Santen, despite heroic, should not always be emulated.
“EHP also strongly advises members of the public not to directly intervene when they come across marine animals in distress,” they said, citing disease and injury possibilities. At the time, van Santen couldn’t care less, he just wanted to help out an animal in need and many have said he did the right thing.