A large rescue device searches for the cetacean after it is spotted with a fishing net hooking it “from head to tail.”

The head of the sperm whale Toño caught in the net.

Since twelve days, a device searches against the clock at Toño, a sperm whale over ten meters whose life is at risk because got caught in a drifting net in the Strait of Gibraltar that prevents you from being able to move as you need.

The General Sub-Directorate of Biodiversity of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge launched this device since last July 10 Nereide, an association of Tarifa (Cádiz) dedicated to protecting the environment, sound the alarm.

The president of this association, the marine bióloga Eva Carpinelli, located the animal that day during one of the outings he makes to whale watching in the Strait, an area through which some four hundred of four species: killer whales, sperm whales, rock pea and pilot whale.

She was accompanied by the photographers Rafael Fernández Caballero, world champion in underwater photography, Y Beltran Rodriguez.

Around 2:00 p.m. in the area between Punta Europa, in Algeciras, and the Moroccan port of Tangier Med, they sighted a sperm whale totally trapped in a drifting fishing net that covered him from mouth to tail.

Rafael Fernández, with special permission to take underwater images from the Ministry for Ecological Transition, they submerged themselves in the water and took photographs, the only thing they could do at that time since they had no resources to help the animal and, due to the strong east wind, they had to return to land.

Loyal visitor and with a taste for squid

The sperm whale was identified by Ana Gámez, Carpinelli’s companion, when comparing the photographs of that day with the images in the catalog of the specimens identified in the Strait.

It was thus possible to confirm that it was Toño, who since 2015 has frequented the Strait in spring and summer, like other specimens of this species, to eat squid in its depths. From the Ministry they have mobilized a reconnaissance plane that travels the area, in search of it.

Besides, the Junta de Andalucía, through the Andalusian Marine Environment Management Center (Cegma) of Algeciras, as well as whale watching companies from Tarifa and the rest of the Cadiz region of Campo de Gibraltar and environmental groups from the area collaborate in the search for Toño.

In the event of a sperm whale sighting that facilitates its location, it would be launched a device to try to free it, according to ministerial sources.

The search, however, has been complicated by the east wind which has been blowing strongly in the area for many consecutive days – today, Wednesday, it is expected to change to the west -, which makes navigation difficult both by sea and by air.

Trapped by a forbidden net

The president of Nereide explains that it is the first time she has come across a situation like this. “The animal was clearly weak“, As indicated by their”reduced mobility” and the murmur weakness that he was able to appreciate during the sighting.

Faced with Toño’s survival, what worries Carpinelli most is that he has “tangled head part“, Although with the photos they could not clearly see if may or may not move the jaw to feed. That the “scared“He says.

The cetacean “is hooked from head to tail”, from which they hung six or seven meters of net, although they couldn’t see if had other animals or objects hookedexplains the biologist.

The gill fishing net that surrounds the animal is prohibited by European directives, but it is used by Moroccan fishing vessels, indicates the collective Verdemar Ecologists in Action, which has been denouncing their presence in the waters of the Strait.

These meshes, as well as other fishing nets that remain adrift after breaking, cause situations such as that of the Toño sperm whale, a species included in the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN).

In recent weeks, the Nereide association has learned of three other cases of entangled animals in these fishing nets in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Italy.

Despite its enormous size, Toño, a name that was assigned together with a code to track it through photographs, like the rest of the cetaceans, has not been seen since.

Eva Carpinelli admits that “about cetaceans, in general, very little is known”. Toño, specifically, is a “adult or a subadult, which are the ones who come to feed themselves in this area ”. But nevertheless, her sex is unknown. Males can measure 18 meters, a weigh 50 tons and they can be submerged more than 50 minutes.

With less wind from the east, the device continues searching for Toño, hoping to see him freed from that net and bringing his dark gray tail fin to the surface as he plunges into the depths of the Strait.