A day after locating the Fu Yuan Yu 73, the Delta - one of the Steve Irwin's small boats - was sent to further document their illegal fishing activities. Upon seeing the Delta, the vessel fled, abandoning its driftnet in the ocean. The Delta pursued the ship as the Steve Irwin headed towards the driftnet in order to retrieve and confiscate it.
The Delta approaches the Steve Irwin and the illegal driftnet.
Having followed the Fu Yuan Yu 73 for over an hour, the Delta returned to the Steve Irwin, with its crew busy hauling in the net. The driftnet was a mess, having become entangled with the swells of the ocean, and within its grasp were the bodies of several Blue sharks. Delta navigator Sam Docker recalls his impressions upon returning to the Steve Irwin.
"As we started to untangle the net we discovered that one of the entangled Blue Sharks was still alive, so we focused our attention to cutting it free from the net."
The entangled Blue Shark.
As the shark thrashed around in the net, Eliza and Sam directed the boat closer to the shark.
"This was the first time I'd ever seen a shark and it was horrible to see one in such a panicked situation. The small boat was moving wildly up and down and every time we cut the net, the shark would tangle itself up again. We ended up cutting the tail free first and while Sam held it, I untangled the last of the net from its teeth." remembers Eliza.
Sam holds the tail of the Blue Shark as Eliza works to cut the net and free the animal.
After a short time, Eliza and Sam were able to cut the Blue shark free from the driftnet, with the crew of the Steve Irwin cheering them on.
"When I first saw the shark tangled up I didn't think we were going to be able to save it. When it finally whipped its tail and swam off it felt like we had just achieved something impossible." - Eliza.
The Blue Shark swims away, free, as Eliza and Sam watch on.
"It felt good to be able to free an animal at the start of the hauling, but at the same time it was hard to see the destructiveness of this net up so close. At that point I think we all knew it would be a difficult few days ahead." - Sam.
By the end of the next day, the Steve Irwin had retrieved the bodies of 108 Blue sharks and were able to save the lives of 18. The Fu Yuan Yu fleet were not permitted to catch any species of shark under Indian Ocean regulations, and the use of driftnets has been banned worldwide since 1992.