At 10h55, Monday, 15th August, the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) volunteers were activated following eye-witness reports of a whale entangled in fishing rope and floatation buoys, approximately 400 meters off-shore of Glencairn (between Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town).
The NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft Spirit of Safmarine III and Spirit of Surfski II were launched accompanied by SAWDN volunteers and carrying the SAWDN specialised cutting equipment and the whale was located and found to be a 7.5 meter juvenile Humpback whale with wraps of rope entangled around the left and around the right flukes and around the caudal peduncle (at least three wraps around each) and a chain anchoring the whale to the sea floor effectively trapping the whale to the sea floor.
SAWDN volunteers initially began cutting at the lines (with the whale anchored to the sea bed) using the specialised cutting equipment from the rigid inflatable sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski II but after a while the anchored chain snapped causing the whale (still attached to the sea rescue craft) to tow the sea rescue craft at about 3 knots while attempts were continued by SAWDN volunteers to try to cut at the lines despite being towed along by the whale which was by now about a nautical mile off-shore.
Those efforts to cut the lines became too difficult and the line was passed from the smaller sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski II to the larger deep-sea rescue craft Spirit of Safmarine III and the line was then attached to the hydraulic winch onboard the sea rescue craft and while the whale was now towing the larger sea rescue craft (at about half a knot) the line was reeled in using the hydraulic winch until the sea rescue craft was close enough to the whale for the SAWDN volunteers to begin cutting at the lines and these cutting efforts were hampered from time to time when the whale thrashed its tail, appearing to be in agitation.
The disentanglement operation, using the specialised disentanglement equipment, involved cutting through at least 9 ropes and it was an intense and difficult operation but after cutting through the ropes, which included losing some of the specialised cutting equipment and causing damage to some of the specialised cutting equipment, the animal was freed from all of the ropes.
Mike Meyer, head of SAWDN, and from the Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts, said that it appears that the whale is healthy, despite a few nicks and abrasions, and it swam off strongly and all indications are that the animal has survived and we are satisfied that the operation has been successful.
Additional photographs taken by Sally Sivewright (Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts) are posted to Sea Rescue Flickr page www.nsri.org.za for media use and video to follow.
Spokesman for SAWDN (SOUTH AFRICAN WHALE DISENTANGLEMENT NETWORK)