Mike Meyer, head of the SA Whale Disentanglement Network and of the Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts, said:
At 06h30, Tuesday, 24th January, the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) were activated following reports from a skipper on a fishing boat of two whales entangled in fishing lines, ropes and floatation buoys in the vicinity of Dassen Island.
SAWDN volunteers launched aboard the NSRI Yzerfontein sea rescue craft Rotary Onwards and Spirit of Iffley at 09h35 and on arrival on the scene we found an 11 meter Humpback Whale swimming freely, 2 nautical miles South of Dassen Island, with one rope and one floatation buoy entangled around the whales tail.
The whale, in good health, moved swiftly through the water diving regularly making efforts for the SAWDN team to cut at the rope difficult.
A kegging buoy was secured to the rope including an additional line of rope running to the NSRI sea rescue craft Spirit of Iffley which we used in an attempt to slow the whale down.
The whale did not tire out as we had hoped and the decision was taken to get as close to the whale when it surfaced and to use the opportunity to cut at the line using our specialised cutting equipment as the whale surfaced.
On the whale surfacing from a dive the skipper of the sea rescue craft had managed to get the sea rescue craft up close to the whale and we used the opportunity to get to work cutting at a large portion of the rope which was successfully cut free and the floatation buoy also came loose but despite our best efforts a small rope remains attached to the whale which we were not able to reach but the whale, with complete freedom of movement, swam off confidently and appearing to be healthy.
We returned to Dassen Island where 1.5 nautical miles South West of the island we found the second whale trapped to the ocean floor by a line of rope running to an anchored lobster trap.
This 8 meter Humpback Whale had rope through its mouth running to its tail and a kegging buoy was attached to the tail section of the rope, which lay deep under water, in an effort to lift the rope and then, with the rope partially lifted, the specialised cutting equipment was used to first cut the tail line free, which released the whale from the entrapment, and then the remainder of the rope was cut free completely freeing the whale of all rope and buoys.
We then escorted the whale through the lobster trap lines out into open water and the whale swum off confidently appearing to be healthy.
Earlier a third whale entangled had been reported to SAWDN and a loose floatation buoy which we found floating out on the ocean in the vicinity, but not attached to any whale, is suspected to have come from that whale. Although the third whale could not be found we suspect this whale may have freed itself but we will continue to monitor for any further sightings and react accordingly.
SOUTH AFRICAN WHALE DISENTANGLEMENT NETWORK Spokesman