At 23h40 (Sunday, 27th October) The Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) were alerted by the ship MV EXPLORER, docked at E Berth, Duncan Docks, in the Port of Table Bay, of a whale appearing to be trapped between the quayside and the ship.
TNPA activated the Department of Environmental Affairs Oceans and Coasts and Mike Meyer was sent to investigate. TNPA officials were also dispatched and NSRI and TNPA tug boats were placed on alert.
On arrival on the scene Mike found a juvenile Humpback whale, approximately 8 meters in length and estimated to be about 1 year old, trapped between the ships side and the quay side and despite having some room between the ships side and the quay side, and with the whale gradually moving backwards and forwards, it appeared too disorientated to move backwards to where the gap between the ship and the quay widened (towards the front of the boat) and continually appeared to wedge itself up against the ship and the quay side where the ships side was pressed hard against the quay side (towards the back of the ship).
Despite numerous attempts to get the whale to move backwards, towards a widening gap between the ship and the quay side, towards the front of the ship and towards open water, using a pole and torch light, the whale remained trapped between the ship and the quay side, unable to turn around and continuing to nudge against the tyre fenders. The whale also displayed damage to its front mouth which appears to be caused from nudging against the tyre fenders.
Mike requested additional assistance after these efforts to coax the whale backwards, towards open water, failed.
NSRI Headquarters, NSRI Table Bay, NSRI Bakoven, a WC Government Health EMS rescue squad, the Police Dive Unit, Harbour Police and the Police Sea Borderline unit were activated.
It was agreed that the MV EXPLORER herself would have to be moved aside to make space for a rescue effort and TNPA, together with the ships agent, authorized the operation to move the ship.
Two TNPA tug boats, MERLOT and PINOTAGE, and TNPA harbour pilot Yolisa Tshangela, were dispatched while the ships crew were mustered, along with TNPA shore crews, to carry out the massive task of moving the 24300 ton, 590 foot ship, into the middle of the harbour to make room for a rescue effort to take place.
NSRI Table Bay launched their sea rescue rigid inflatable boat (RIB) ROTARY ENDEAVOR and Sea Borderline Police launched a Police Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB).
Under the guidance of Mike Meyer, once the ship had been moved aside, the two RIB’s, with NSRI crews and Police Divers, moved in to attempt to coax the whale and to guide the whale away from the quay side.
The whale stubbornly refused to budge despite the best efforts of the rescue crews, on the two RIB’s, to coax the whale away from the quay side and Police Diver Douglas Jones volunteered to get into the water and physically push the whale away from the side.
Once in the water Police Diver Jones managed to push the whale away from the edge of the quay side and then both RIB’s were used to guide the whale out towards the Port exit.
Police Diver Jones remained in the water next to the whale and continued to gently push the whale along in conjunction with the two rescue RIB’s.
Efforts were then begun to re-berth the ship.
During these efforts (to coax the whale out to sea) the whale attempted to return to its original place next to the quay side but remarkably the whale then decided to follow the tug boat Merlot, which had by now released her lines to the now docked ship.
Mike Meyer estimates that the juvenile whale, distressed and disorientated, may have mistaken the tug boat MERLOT for its mother. The tug boat was instructed to head out to sea and the whale followed MERLOT out of the Port exit to open waters.
Mike Meyer has expressed that he is cautiously optimistic that the whale will survive this ordeal fearing that the whale may be too disorientated, and since it appears to be separated from its mother, to survive.
The Port of Table Bay and beaches in the Table Bay vicinity will be monitored to see if the whale returns into Port or if it beaches along the coastline.
The rescue operation was completed at 04h10 (Monday, 28th October).
Thanks are expressed to Captain Jeremy Kingston, of MV EXPLORER, and to his crew.
MV EXPLORER, a floating University of Semester at Sea, departs Cape Town for Argentina on Wednesday.
Students of the ship gave the whale a number of names during the rescue operation.
All services involved are commended for participating in this rescue operation.
Pictures are available for media download on Sea Rescue’s Flickr page.