At 15h36, Saturday, 06th August, the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) were activated following reports of a whale discovered by a local fishing ski-boat crew to be entangled in fishing rope and floatation buoys 500 meters off-shore of Cape Point on the False Bay side.
The NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft Spirit of Surf-ski II launched and on arrival on the scene they stood by at the whale, an 8.5 meter juvenile Humpback whale, while the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) volunteers geared up and SAWDN were brought to the scene aboard the sea rescue craft 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 found to be trapped to the sea bed entangled in multiple ropes and floatation buoys and appearing to be trapped to rope anchored to rock lobster nets on the sea bed.
The whale had at least 5 ropes entangled around the flukes and tail and the rope was twisted and entangled into a birds nest of rope and although the whale had minimal movement the whale kept avoiding the efforts by SAWDN to cut at the rope by diving below the surface making efforts to cut rope extremely difficult.
It is suspected that the whale may have dragged the rock lobster nets to the area which appeared to have become snarled in rocks closer to the shore effectively anchoring the whale to the sea bed.
The operation on Saturday evening continued after sunset and making use of flood lights at least three cuts were made to rope but after dark the operation became increasingly hazardous, particularly with the whale which kept on diving to avoid the cutting efforts, and it was deemed too unsafe to continue at night and the operation was suspended at 19h00.
An all ships Maritime Navigational Hazard alert was posted by Telkom Maritime Radio Services warning vessels in the area of the whales position and the alert continued to be broadcast throughout the night.
The local ski-boat fraternity were also notified to avoid the area as fears were that any craft of vessel venturing into the area may injure the animal.
NSRI Simon’s Town duty crew volunteered to launch again before sunrise accompanied by the SAWDN volunteers and on Sunday morning, 07th August, at first light 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.
Although the whale showed signs being tired efforts to cut at the ropes continued to be hampered by the whale keeping on diving to avoid the rescue attempts and the operation required more resources and a larger vessel was summoned.
At 09h48 a call was made to Gary Nel, one of the Octopus permit holders, requesting the assistance of their large fishing vessel and Gary volunteered to launch their deep-sea fishing vessel Albatross from Kalk Bay Harbour to join in the rescue operation (despite these nets not belonging to Gary’s operation).
Once on-scene the crew aboard the Albatross were able to lift the lines from a relative distance away and lifting the lines leading towards the whale while the SAWDN volunteers cut on the lifted lines and eventually after a 7 hour operation, deemed to be the most difficult disentanglement operation to date, all of the lines, estimated to be at least 11 wraps, were cut free of the whale and recovered and the whale has been successfully freed and appears to be strong and healthy and the whale has swum off.
SAWDN express heartfelt gratitude to the NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft and the NSRI Simon’s Town coxswains and crew and to the seamanship displayed by the fishing boat Albatross and her crew.
If you would like to make a donation towards our work, please click here
Picture taken by NSRI Simon’s Town shows SAWDN volunteers cutting at lines from the sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski II and assisted by the fishing vessel Albatross and her crew.