Volunteers untangle 7m humpback whale

The perseverance of the South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) saved the life of a 7-metre juvenile hump-
back whale on Tuesday March
24.

According to SAWDN team leader Ian Klopper, a local fishing vessel alerted them to a whale dragging a buoy and rope in the vicinity of Kommetjie near the Slangkop lighthouse.

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) sea rescue craft, Spirit of the Vines and IL Batello, were launched from NSRI Kommetjie sea rescue base at 4.37pm.

SAWDN volunteers accompanied both vessels with the specialised whale disentanglement equipment.

On arrival in the area, they located multiple humpback w
hales and moved from one to the other looking for the entangled whale.

Both boats searched for an hour before calling on NSRI Hout Bay for assistance due to concerns of fading light.

NSRI Hout Bay launched its sea rescue craft, Albie Matthews, to assist the team.

The crew of a local Oceana fishing vessel at sea at the time contacted the NSRI, saying they had seen the entangled whale
and updated the NSRI of its location.

The whale was located at 5.50pm, dragging two long lines wrapped through its mouth, one attached to a buoy with a piece of kelp entangled in the rope.

“The whale was extremely active and was swimming at high speed, diving regularly, and this made the disentanglement task all the more challenging and difficult,” Mr Klopper said.

After following the whale for a short period of time, the NSRI
sea rescue craft managed to reach the trailing line and the SAWDN crew attached a kegging buoy to slow the whale down and pre-
vent the team from losing the whale.

A grappling hook was thrown and locked onto the rope trail-
ing the buoy approximately 2m from the whale’s head on its left side.

A second kegging buoy was then attached, which dragged 5m behind the whale, and the line behind the front kegging buoy was then cut to make the operation more manageable.

The first cut was to the rope
on the left side of the whale’s mouth which freed the buoy, a bolus of coiled rope as well as a longer trailed line to the kegging buoy. The line through the mouth, which trailed a length of line behind the whale, was lifted using a specialised cutting knife and pulled towards the whale. The whale rolled over onto
its back and its head came up to approximately 1m below the
surface with its mouth closed
and still moving through the
water.

“The rope was cut and all rope and floatation buoys were recovered.

“The SAWDN is confident that the whale will survive as it swam away with strong movement following this challenging but successful operation,” said Mr Klopper.