Durban - A young humpback whale, trapped in shark nets off the Bluff on Wednesday, was released unhurt but its entanglement has upset activists who are calling for the R53 million-a-year nets to be removed.

The struggling whale, about 4m long, was spotted early yesterday by residents who first thought there were two whales snared.

“My husband, Peter, was up at about 5am when he spotted the struggling whale baby. At first we thought the mother was caught as well, but I guess she was trying to help him. It’s so sad to see these beautiful creatures in such distress,” said local, Carol Lamprecht.

Debbie Hargreaves, from the KZN Sharks Board, confirmed the board’s team had received a call from the public saying whales were entangled off Brighton Beach.

“The specialist whale release team from the board responded and arrived at the scene at about 6.45am.

“It was a relatively simple release and the whale soon joined another two humpback whales waiting in deeper water,” she said.

Marine activist, Mark Addison, who has researched the types and number of animals caught in the nets each year for the past 30 years, said nets were no longer required off the beaches because whaling, which attracted sharks, was no longer an industry. “That’s when they had the shark attacks. When whale boats were catching the animals offshore,” he said.

“After whaling was closed down, experts said there was no longer a need for the nets as the danger had passed. It’s wonderful that the public are putting the Sharks Board under pressure. There has been a lot of outcry over the number of animals killed in the nets which is good.”

Environmental activist group Shark Angels spokeswoman Olivia Symcox, who is also an underwater diver and surfer, said she was pleased there was a “happy ending”. The nets were “destructive”, she said, and it was time they were removed.

“They catch everything big enough to swim into them. They are 100 percent gill nets, the second most destructive and indiscriminate forms of fishing in the world, second only to using dynamite.”

Hargreaves was unable to respond to questions relating to the number of whales caught in shark nets off KZN shores this year, but she said: “All reports of possible whale entanglements should be reported and the whale release teams will investigate each one.”

The Mercury