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Freed whale showed gratitude, says rescuer

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MADRID (Reuters) - In a gripping underwater rescue, Spanish divers have freed a 12-metre long humpback whale from an illegal drift net off the island of Mallorca.

The rescue was carried out on Friday (May 20).

One of the divers, marine biologist Gigi Torras, who turned 32 that day, said what looked like a little gesture of appreciation from the giant mammal was for her the “best ever” birthday present.

"It was like out of this world, it was incredible, just incredible," she told Reuters on Tuesday.

It was only the third time that a humpback has been seen around the Balearic Islands.

After the weakened whale was spotted by a ship about 5 km off the eastern coast of Mallorca, the local aquarium’s marine rescue centre swung into action.

Rescuers found the whale so trapped in the red fishnet that it could not even open its mouth.

After initial attempts to cut the net from a boat failed, divers joined the effort to remove the mesh with knives in a daring 45-minute operation.

"The first ten seconds she got a bit nervous, you know, like bubbles everywhere, but then I don't know, call me crazy but I think she knew we were there to help her and she just relaxed and we started working from the front of her mouth backwards," said Ms Torras.

"We kept cutting and cutting and she kind of gave a little wiggle to get herself out of it," she said, adding that the mammal then stayed for a bit to regain her strength in the company of the four divers and even gave what looked like "a little thank you sign" before swimming off.

Drift nets, known as "walls of death" for the other sea life they catch in addition to the fish they are set for, were banned by the United Nations 30 years ago.

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