At 16h30, Thursday, 25th August, the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) volunteers launched aboard two NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft, Spirit of Safmarine III and Spirit of Surfski II, from Simon’s Town harbour following reports from a SAWDN volunteer at Rooikrans, between Buffels Bay and Cape Point Lighthouse, of a juvenile Humpback whale entangled in fishing rope and lines and anchored to the seabed.
Additional cutting equipment housed at the NSRI Kommetjie sea rescue base was brought through to the NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue base. On arrival on the scene extensive efforts were made to catch up with the whale which had free movement and swimming in circles, diving for periods of up to 5 minutes, and avoiding efforts from the SAWDN volunteers to cut at any of the lines attached to the whale.
The whale, despite having freedom of movement, was found to be entangled in rope and lines with a rope line running through the whales mouth, a rope line around a flipper, and a bundle of line trailing underneath the whale with a line anchoring the whale to the seabed.
After dark it became impossible to continue with the disentanglement operation and the efforts were suspended to be resumed at daybreak.
The two NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft carrying SAWDN volunteers launched at 07h00, Friday, 26th August, and on arrival on the scene in gusting 20 knot South Easterly winds efforts resumed.
Again the whale, having a wide arc with freedom of movement, about 80 to 100 meters, avoided efforts by SAWDN volunteers to cut at the lines and dived for up to 7 minutes at a time appearing to avoid the rescue effort. A larger Humpback whale was noticed to be circling the operation while it was in progress.
A grappling hook was used and it hooked the line perfectly and close to the whale allowing the SAWDN volunteers to attach a kegging buoy which brought the whale to the surface and seemed to calm the whale. This allowed for closer inspection of the entanglement both underwater and during the periods where the whale surfaced. The specialised hook knife on a long pole was used and the rope going over the whales head was cut.
SAWDN volunteers investigated the remaining entanglement under water by leaning over the sea rescue craft using goggles. Rope was found still entangled through the mouth, around a flipper and with the bundle of rope trailing underneath and anchored to the seabed.
A rock lobster boat, the Northern Star, volunteered to assist following extensive efforts by the fishing community to arrange a larger boat to assist in the operation, and Northern Star remained on stand-by in the area to assist with lifting lines if it became necessary (although the rope and lines are not belonging to the fishing company) and the sea rescue craft Spirit of Safmarine III was able to lift a line from the anchored end.
While lifting the line a SAWDN volunteer, hanging over the side of the sea rescue craft Spirit of Surfski II, slipped and Mike Meyer, head of SAWDN and of the Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts, grabbed onto him to prevent him from falling over the side of the boat.
During this mishap the SAWDN volunteer jerked on a cutting hook and the jerk, coupled with him slipping, cut through the line that SAWDN had attached to the whale (leading to the sea rescue craft) and at first it seemed as if this would hamper the efforts further.
It was then found, on investigation, that the coincidental jerk that cut the line relieved pressure on the line that was entangled around the whales flipper and had released the line causing the line to slip off the whale which was now found to be swimming freely.
A further underwater investigation revealed only a rope through the whales mouth but it appeared to not be entangled with only a line of rope seeming to be inside the whales mouth with the whale biting on the line.
While efforts resumed to get closer to the whale it was found that the whale had let go of its bite and all rope was now free of the whale and it had swum off.
SAWDN (SOUTH AFRICAN WHALE DISENTANGLEMENT NETWORK) Spokesman