Rescue mission to save snagged shark at Bushrangers Bay

With the gang hook removed from its eye, the shark was released and swam away. Picture: Sea Life Aquarium.
With the gang hook removed from its eye, the shark was released and swam away. Picture: Sea Life Aquarium.

A scientist has told how he and his team nursed a Grey Nurse shark in a Bushrangers Bay rescue mission last week, after the animal had got a ganged fish hook stuck from her eye to her mouth.

The critically endangered shark - non-aggressive to humans - had been unable to shake the line of hooks free of her tough skin.

A diver had spotted the Grey Nurse and had called the Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, which has permission from the NSW Department of Primary Industries for its scientists to perform certain rescues.

After about two weeks of planning a team was able to set up their equipment in Bushrangers Bay, knowing the sharks show "site fidelity" so she would likely still be around.

After finding the stricken animal in about 3-4m of water, the Sea Life team's first task was to persuade her into a large nylon sock, marine scientist Rob Townsend told the Mercury.

"We're lucky that this particular site is frequented by divers almost every day, so the sharks are used to divers," he said.

"We were shepherding her into the direction we wanted her to go ... you can swim them the right way."

She was then placed on a stretcher and brought to the surface, where the team turned her upside-down.

"An animal this size we can manually restrain quite easily," Mr Townsend said.

"We do have the added advantage with sharks they they have a condition known as tonic immobility, where if you flip them upside down it will calm them down, they go into a bit of a torpor.

"You can use that as a pseudo-sedative, makes them easier to work with."

When turned upside-down the shark was rendered sleep-like.

When turned upside-down the shark was rendered sleep-like.

After the hooks were out, the shark was given some prophylactic antibiotics and vitamins, before "she swam off beautifully and healthily into the ocean", he said.

He said the 1.8m juvenile was about 45kg and as a potential breeder she would be highly valuable to the population.

Mr Townsend's enthusiasm for these sharks is clear, and he said after working with the animals for almost 20 years, he loved them.

"Someone's got to. They get bad press, so I have to stand up with them when I can."