Great effort to save whale

The South African Whale Disentanglement Network volunteers cutting at lines from the sea rescue craft Spirit of Surf-ski II, helped by the fishing vessel Albatross and her crew.

An 8.5 meter juvenile Humpback whale was saved in a dramatic combined rescue effort on Saturday August 6.

The South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) responded to reports of the distressed whale by a local fishing ski-boat.

The whale was entangled in fishing rope and floatation buoys, 500 meters off-shore of Cape Point on the False Bay side.

SAWDN volunteers were brought to the scene aboard the sea rescue craft Spirit of Safmarine III arriving at sunset.

The NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft Spirit of Surf-ski II responded to the call for help and stood by while SAWDN volunteers were brought to the scene aboard Spirit of Safmarine III, arriving at sunset.

Mike Meyer, head of SAWDN and of the Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts, said that the whale was entangled in multiple ropes and floatation buoys and appearing to be trapped to rope which was anchored to rock lobster nets on the sea bed.

The whale had at least five ropes tangled around its flukes and tail and the rope was twisted into a birds-nest. Even though the whale had minimal space to move, it tried to avoid the efforts by SAWDN to cut it free, by repeatedly diving below the surface.

Mr Meyer said that it is thought the whale may have dragged the rock lobster nets to the area where they then became snarled in rocks closer to the shore, effectively anchoring the whale to the sea bed.

The operation on Saturday eve-ning continued after sunset, making use of flood lights. The rope was cut in three places during this time, but after dark the operation became increasingly dangerous and it was suspended at 7pm.

An all ships Maritime Navigational Hazard alert was posted by Telkom Maritime Radio Services, warning vessels in the area of the whale’s position, and the alert was broadcast throughout the night.

The local ski-boat fraternity were also notified to avoid the area, for fear that any craft or vessel venturing into the area may injure the whale.

NSRI Simon’s Town duty crew volunteered to launch again before sunrise, accompanied by the SAWDN volunteers, and at first light on Sunday morning, August 7, the sea rescue craft carrying the SAWDN team arrived on the scene to find the whale in the same place, and the disentanglement operation continued.

The whale showed signs of being tired, but continued to hamper the volunteer’s efforts to cut the ropes by diving when they approached.

This meant that more help and different resources eventually needed to be called in.

At 9.48am a call was made to Gary Nel, an Octopus permit holder, asking for help from his large fishing vessel. Gary volunteered to launch his deep-sea fishing vessel Albatross from Kalk Bay Harbour to join in the rescue operation, even though the nets that the whale was trapped in did not belong to his operation.

Once on the scene, the crew aboard the Albatross were able to lift the lines from a relative distance away, while the SAWDN volunteers cut through the lifted lines.

After seven gruelling hours, which is deemed to be the most difficult disentanglement operation to date, the whale was cut free from the ropes which had at least 11 wraps.

The rescued whale appeared strong and healthy, and when the operation was completed, it was able to swim to freedom.

SAWDN expressed heartfelt gratitude to the NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft and the NSRI Simonstown cox-swains and crew, and to the seamanship displayed by the crew of the fishing boat Albatross.