Whale shark unwrapped from fishing line by Hawaii family

A family in Hawaii is credited with saving the life of a whale shark that was tangled up in fishing line.

The Kawelo family was diving in Kaunolu, Lanai, when they noticed the 20-foot creature swimming next to them — with the line wrapped around its midsection.

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"I wanted it to stay there with us so that we could cut the rope off and get it free and stop the rope from hurting it because it was really digging into a couple of its fins," Kanehoalani, a member of the family, told Hawaii News Now.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources alerted the public to the whale shark's entanglement and urged them to report sightings of the large sea creature to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

It appears that the whale shark spotted by the Kawelo family was seen two to three weeks ago off the coast of Maui. Officials described the shark as "somewhat emaciated."

A diver in Maui, Hollis Romanchik, told the Associated Press it looked as though the fishing line trapping the juvenile whale shark looked like it "got on it when it was a lot younger because you can see the scarring and indentation on its body from it growing around it."

Kapua Kawelo and her husband, Joby Rohrer, said they didn't realize the animal had previously been spotted and began diving to help it.

"We waited a long time to consider what our responsibility was, what our 'kuleana' was. We know that people don't necessarily encourage this type of thing but both of us are biologists," Kawelo said. "We felt like we were sort of in tune with what the animal was doing and maybe we were meant to be there."

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Rohrer told Hawaii News Now the fishing line was roughly five inches thick, and said it took him five dives to cut through the line with a four-inch knife.

"The rope weighed probably like 150 pounds," Hoohila, a daughter of the Kawelo family, said. "I was just dragging it in the water and I couldn't imagine what that shark was going through, having to haul that around everywhere."

Rohrer said the experience was a "good example [that] the things that we discard can destroy beautiful animals like that so easily."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nicole Darrah covers breaking and trending news for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @nicoledarrah.