Top 10 Memorable Ocean Experiences of 2011: No. 02 – Operation Rescue at Medhafaru

DJ and I had seen the net stretched taut on the crane like structure on the Medhafaru the last time we had dived and we knew it meant trouble. Sure enough on the next dive at the wreck, as Nish, Keerths, Daniel and I started our dive; the first thing I saw was an outline of a large fish, seemingly motionless next to the crane.

Swimming closer the silhouette resolved itself into a blue-line grouper that was hanging off the net by a loop that had effectively created a noose. You could see where it had tightened as the fish had fought, white flesh showing through the blue and green skin.

Initially it was hanging so still, swaying quietly in the surge that I thought it was dead but as I got right up next to it, its fins flapped and it tried to feebly get away. The nylon on the net was wrapped tight and taught against the fish. These groupers have a habit of lying in wait for prey and then shooting out at them and it looked like this fish had picked a very bad place to set an ambush, running right into the net. The net itself was knotted tight presumably by the fish twisting trying to get away from the encumberance.

It was strange to be quite so close to one of these fish as they are generally quite shy and only give you the briefest glimpse before hiding away in the shadows. Up close and personal the fish was quite magnificent, shimmering green and luminescent blue. The only thing that marred the picture was the bruised flesh around the net and the look of terror on the fish’s face. I never really thought that fish could look scared but the fear was palpable when looking at it.

I pulled out my knife and tried to figure out a way of cutting the grouper free without damaging it even more but the camera made things awkward. Calling Keerths over, I motioned for him to take the camera, tightening the lanyard around his wrist for safekeeping.

Things were still a bit tricky as I slipped the knife gently between the fish and the net strand, the fish’s body oddly pliant and fragile. The net tightened on the other side of the fish as a result and flesh and blood drifted off making me even more cautious. Every time I brought the knife up to cut the fish struggled and the water clouded with blood. After a couple of tried I started to wonder if it would be more merciful to kill the fish instead of putting him through the slow pain of a botched release.

I finally managed to slip the knife up towards the fish’s dorsal fin and gritted my teeth and pulled. With a snap the line parted and thankfully only a bit of blood was released. The fish hung motionless and free for a moment. Then in a moment it realized it was free and the body swung as the fins powered up and in a flurry of movement it was gone. A lucky survivor of the ghost nets that plagues our shipwrecks.

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