Rescuers struggle to free sperm whale trapped in netting off Sicily

The Italian coastguard is struggling to free a sperm whale caught up in illegal fishing netting off the coast of one of Sicily’s Aeolian islands.

A team of divers and biologists have been working for more than 48 hours to help the whale close to the island of Salina. The whale’s huge size and agitated state has made the operation more challenging.

“The whale seems to have gone crazy,” Carmelo Isgrò, a biologist and diver, told the Italian news agency Ansa on Monday. “We thought that after 24 hours he would get tired, but instead it is not making our job easy.”

Isgrò added that the job was “very risky” as the female whale “does not stop wiggling” due to injuries and netting that “continues to tear at its skin”.

It is the second time a sperm whale has been caught up in illegal fishing netting in the area in the past few weeks. This one was spotted by boaters on Saturday with its 10-metre tail entangled in the netting.

“There is so much bitterness and anger towards these damned drift nets which once again seem to have got the better of one of the most beautiful and majestic sea giants in the world,” said Monica Blasi, a biologist at Filicudi wildlife conservation.

Greenpeace Italy has called on Teresa Bellanova, the Italian agriculture minister, to ban drift nets. “It is unacceptable that this species is threatened by nets that have been illegal in Italy for about 20 years, but that some continue to use with impunity,” the organisation wrote on its Facebook page.

The coastguard has seized more than 100km of illegal fishing nets in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea since January.


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