SPOTTING a 400-kilogram turtle struggling and distressed in a shark net, Newcastle canoeist Stephen Dawes was determined to save the majestic creature from death.
He said it was ‘‘extremely depressing’’ to see the leatherback sea turtle tangled in the 1000-metre net off Soldiers beach at Norah Head.
The species is the largest of all living turtles and looks different because it doesn’t have a bony shell.
Mr Dawes was out paddling for an outrigger canoe training session with five of his mates, and because conditions were calm they were able to see the creature, along with a dead tiger shark which was caught further down.
‘‘We had a group of about five of us out training and we were heading out for a coffee,’’ he said.
‘‘It was so calm we could see the shark net below us.
‘‘The poor old turtle wasn’t happy, I can tell you.
‘‘It was bloody big; it was about six-foot [1.8-metres] long and 400kilograms. He was pretty distressed, he was struggling.
‘‘When he saw us coming he was trying to come up for a breath.’’
Because the group didn’t have a knife to free the animal, they called the Department of Fisheries as soon as they got to land.
‘‘The guy from there said that this is the first time he has seen one in his 10 years of netting,’’ Mr Dawes said.
A rescue operation soon got under way after the department called the shark netting contractor, who then winched the net up onto his boat.
The turtle was cut free and released into the ocean.
Mr Dawes said he was upset about the shark nets and didn’t think they should be used.
‘‘I don’t like what they’re doing; we should be getting rid of these nets,’’ he said.
‘‘They get all the wrong things.
‘‘These creatures are up on the top of the food chain and it’s their playground.’’
However, Mr Dawes said he and his friends from Newcastle Outrigger Canoe Club did feel pretty chuffed they were able to do something to help the turtle.
‘‘We were pretty happy and felt pretty good about that,’’ he said.
‘‘It was an amazing creature, it would’ve been doomed if we didn’t find it.’’