The South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) was formed in 2006 to deal with increased whale entanglements around the South African coastline.
Increased fishing, fishing techniques and fishing equipment coupled with increasing whale migrations saw a need for a specialised task team to follow in the footsteps of similar disentanglement networks globally that deal with the same scenario of whale entanglements around the world.
SAWDN, a volunteer network, are part of a global initiative to deal with these entanglements.
Spear headed by The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts SAWDN volunteers include members of The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts, the NSRI, the Police Dive Unit, DAPG (Dolphin Action and Protection Group), the Natal Sharks Board, Marine Environmental groups, Telkom Maritime Radio Services, Aquatic and Marine organisations and various volunteer Animal Rescue organisations around the coast.
Information, skills, experience and successful techniques are shared between all of the Whale Disentanglement Networks globally.
The costly specialised disentanglement equipment is purchased using public donations. The equipment is designed and made in the United States and Australia. Disentanglement equipment is often lost or damaged during operations.
There are no patterns to the number of operations SAWDN deal with each year. One year to the next the number of disentanglement operations varies and various factors contribute to any increase or decrease in the number of operations and may include earlier whale migrations or later whale migrations and the time of the year.
While every effort is made to reduce these entanglements around the world the goal of these global Disentanglement Networks is to effectively respond to reports of entanglements and to release whales from entanglements.
SAWDN get cooperation and assistance from the fishing community and fishing companies who follow guidelines for fishing practices that are monitored and regulated by The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and by The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts.
Fishing companies regularly volunteer their fishing boats and crews to assist SAWDN in disentanglement operations and this cooperation by the fishing community and by fishing companies is greatly appreciated.
In todays operation, Sunday, 28th August, at 09h35, SAWDN were activated following reports of a whale entangled in rope and floatation buoys in the vicinity of Rocky Banks, off-shore of Cape Point.
Reports of two floatation buoys and two trailing lines entangling the whale were received from fishing boats in the area.
Two NSRI Simon’s Town sea rescue craft were dispatched carrying SAWDN volunteers and the whale, a sub adult 9 meter male Humpback whale, was found about 5 nautical miles off-shore of Smitswinkel Bay, False Bay, heading slowly in the direction of Gordon’s Bay.
It was confirmed to have one trailing line and one floatation buoy and it is suspected that his natural movement had shed it of the second line and floatation buoy.
Using tried techniques the rescue craft gently approached the entangled whale from behind and the SAWDN team, using a grappling hook line, gently placed the line, attached to the sea rescue craft, onto a loop in the entangled rope but as the pressure of the sea rescue craft, now effectively being towed by the whale, increased the whale appeared anxious and inquisitive to the added impediment and thrashed around a bit, said Mike Meyer, Head of SAWDN.
To distract the animal the larger sea rescue craft moved up to head the whale off and this manoeuvre allowed the SAWDN team to begin cutting at 9 wraps of rope that entangled the whale.
All of the rope and the floatation buoy was cut, removed and recovered despite some of the specialised disentanglement equipment getting damaged in the operation.
Once all rope and the floatation buoy was removed, in a most incredible reaction from the animal, the whale swam right up to alongside the sea rescue craft, almost hugging the rescue boat (All motors had been switched off) and he gently placed his head on the gunnel of the sea rescue craft. The whale remained there for almost 20 minutes seemingly staring at his rescuers. All involved described a surreal and emotional moment shared between the SAWDN volunteer team and this beautiful animal.
The whale then swam off.
The operation was completed at 15h54.
Additional pictures of todays SAWDN disentanglement operation is available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/searescue/
SAWDN (SOUTH AFRICAN WHALE DISENTANGLEMENT NETWORK) Spokesman