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Free Willy: Spanish swimmer saves whale caught in illegal fishing net

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Screen grab: Canarias7/YouTube
13:04 CET+01:00
A young Spaniard risked his life to free a whale that had become caught in an illegal fishing net off the island of Fuerteventura.

A Spanish man has been hailed as a hero after he and a friend risked their lives to rescue a trapped whale in the Canary Islands.

Cesar Espino was on a whale and dolphin-spotting boat on January 2nd when he saw the 15-metre long whale, which was trapped in an illegal fishing net.

He dived down and cut away at the net with a knife to free the creature, whose mouth and tail had become entangled.

"As we approached the fishing line we saw the breathing of the whale and we realized that she was entangled in the net," Espino told Spanish reporters.

"I quickly jumped into the water and let the whale see me so she knew I was trying to help her. I felt compassion for her and didn’t hesitate in freeing her from the ropes," he added.

Espino worked away using only a snorkel for over an hour, finally managing to free the whale.

First, he managed to free the whale’s tail from the netting, but freeing its mouth was more complicated.

"The netting across her mouth was from side to side, like the reigns of a horse, and it was quite difficult to take off," Espino said.

The pair said they watched for several minutes as it then gained speed and swam away. 

The dramatic rescue was caught on camera by Espino’s friend and has already been viewed thousands of times on YouTube.

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The whale was identified as a Bryde's whale, a species commonly found in the seas off the Canary Islands, particularly at the end of winter and beginning of spring.

Although they pose no threat to humans as they are filter feeders that eat plankton, a swimmer could be knocked unconscious by one flick of the powerful tail.

Spain recently announced that it was planning a "whale highway" in the Mediterranean to give the creatures a safe passage and ban oil drilling in the area. 

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