The Gold Coast hero who jumped in his tinny to free a baby whale from a shark net has been spared from paying a hefty fine, and has instead donated the money he raised to a marine activist group Sea Shepherd.
The public raised a whopping $16,402.69 on a GoFundMe page to help cover the costs of Django Hopkins’ expected fines after saving the whale calf, but the fine never eventuated.
Sea Shepherd are ecstatic about the injection of funds.
The organisation’s Australian shark campaigner Jonathan Clark said the money would be used to buy new equipment for their rescue operations.
“We’re able to get some much-needed equipment to help us to continue bringing transparency to the shark control program.
“We are about to buy some equipment that is going to help us work around the 20-metre exclusion zone … which has proven very challenging for us.
A whale calf was spotted in distress by a drone operator about 7am May 18 off Burleigh Heads and authorities were called in to help.
But a “suspected communication issue with the Department of Fisheries” delayed the rescue of the trapped mammal.
Frustrated, a civilian, Django Hopkins took matters into his own hands, jumping into his tinny and speeding towards the whale calf.
He helped free the whale, which then promptly swam away.
“I saw the whale and I was like ‘that’s pretty cool’. Then I saw he was in the net and I thought ‘that’s not that cool’,” Mr Hopkins told media after the incident.
“So I went over and had a look, and then the adrenaline kicked in.
“He [the whale] was really cut up … the actual net was going into his flesh.
“I had a knife, but I didn’t really need to use it, he just had his left pectoral fin wrapped up.
“Eventually, I got him enough out of the rope so he could just break free.”
But tampering with shark nets is an offence in Queensland that can attract hefty fines. So too is deliberately coming in close proximity to a whale.
On the way back to shore, Mr Hopkins passed the Department of Fisheries team responding to the incident. He said the government workers told him he would be fined for his actions.
Fines can reach as high as $55,000, according to the GoFundMe page.
“I’m in trouble,” Mr Hopkins said at the time. “It was an expensive day, but whatever. There are laws. They (fisheries officials) do a good job. It is what it is.
“I thought most people would have done it. You just got to pay the price sometimes.”
The possibility of a fine was met with outrage by the general public, and Fisheries Minister Mark Furner hastily clarified that the man wouldn’t be punished for his good deed.
However, Mr Hopkins was given two infringement notices.
“I encourage people to allow the professionals to do their job and make sure they release any marine life that may be unfortunately caught up in this equipment,” Mr Furner said.
“It is dangerous equipment, we have obviously seen loss of life of people themselves being entangled.”