The hid­den costs of res­cue

Hav­ing spent more than 24 hours snared in a sub­sea ca­ble, this hump­back was fi­nally set free – but sav­ing his life came at a price.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Behind The Image - by AUDUN RIKARDSEN

It was so frus­trat­ing. For five hours we tried ev­ery­thing, but it was just too dark to see.

I t was a cold, snowy Jan­uary night when Audun and a friend found them­selves rac­ing out to sea off Tromsø, a tiny is­land in Nor­way's north­ern fjord­lands, to as­sist a hump­back that had be­come se­verely en­tan­gled in what they as­sumed was fish­ing rope. “He was strug­gling to stay afloat and clearly dis­tressed, but af­ter a while seemed to un­der­stand that we were there to help,” Audun re­calls. “He ap­proached, so close that I touched him sev­eral times.”

Audun took pho­tos to lo­cate the po­si­tion of the rope, then the duo tried to free the whale us­ing a pole-mounted knife. They had no idea that what they were try­ing to sever was in fact a met­al­coated in­ter­net ca­ble. The coast­guard ar­rived; still the an­i­mal re­mained trapped. “It was in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing,” Audun says. “For five hours we tried ev­ery­thing we could think of, but it was just too dark to see. We had no choice but to call the res­cue off un­til day­light.”

Rays of hope

The hump­back bat­tled through the night and into the morn­ing, when a fire-and-res­cue diver rup­tured the wiring enough to break it. The pris­oner swam free, his body marked and with likely in­juries to his baleen. Audun cap­tured the night’s events in this splitlevel im­age: the scared whale be­neath the sur­face, his res­cuers above. “We don’t know how he be­came so badly en­tan­gled,” he says. “The ca­ble should have been flat on the seabed – per­haps a loop was stick­ing up and got caught in his mouth as he dived for her­ring.”

The event left three vil­lages with no in­ter­net or mo­bile con­nec­tion for sev­eral weeks. When the area came back online, both Audun and the Fire and Res­cue depart­ment re­ceived an email from the tele­coms com­pany that owned the ca­ble. It was a de­mand for £150,000 to cover the cost of re­pairs.

AUDUN RIKARDSEN is a pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Arc­tic and Ma­rine Bi­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Tromsø, and has been a pro­fes­sional wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher for the past eight years: www. audun rikardsen.com

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