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Marine Week, which takes place during the second week of October each year, aims to create awareness around the conservation of South Africa’s marine life and coastal environments. What better time than now to acknowledge those who work tirelessly to assist the animals and birds that find themselves in harm’s way.

The NSRI works in collaboration with a number of organisations in South Africa that assist marine animals and birds in distress. This year we witnessed turtle rescues and releases, whale disentanglements, a shark disentanglement, elephant seal rescues and monitoring, and the transport of abandoned cormorant chicks to temporary safety, among others. In most cases, it’s members of the public who will alert authorities to an animal in distress, and the operation is then handed over to qualified animal rescue and rehabilitation experts.

The South African Whale Disentanglement Network

The South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) has assisted more than 200 whales caught up in fishing rope and nets since it was formed in 2006. The most recent was a callout for a sub-adult humpback whale trailing fishing gear and with fishing rope around its tail stock off Plettenberg Bay. Station 14 (Plettenberg Bay) station commander and the area’s SAWDN coordinator Jaco Kruger led the team in what he described as a “difficult and delicate” disentanglement operation.

After two kegging lines with flotation buoys were attached to the whale, it led the crew out into the bay towards Beacon Island and then back into the bay. While the operation was in progress, crew noticed a large whale in close proximity. Once the last of the thick ropes was cut, and fishing gear recovered, the two whales swam away together.

WATCH: A young Humpback whale assisted in a disentanglement operation:

SAWDN is represented by 21 ‘disentanglement stations’ around the country, 18 of which are NSRI stations. Volunteers undergo theoretical training (in the form of e-learning) organised by NSRI Head Office, take part in practical training consisting of mock rescues and then supervised on-the-job training.

Members of the public who spot whales in trouble should contact the NSRI’s Emergency Operations Centre on 087 094 9774 or their nearest NSRI station.


At the beginning of this year, 23 turtles were released back into the ocean in the Western Cape. Among them were four rehabilitated turtles, Annie, Olaf, Roo and Luis, whose stories you’re probably familiar with, and 19 hatchlings. The turtles had been in the care of the Two Oceans Aquarium Education Foundation that oversees all turtle rescue, rehabilitation and releases in the Cape area. Staff are devoted to the care of stranded and injured turtles, and monitor them religiously until they are ready to be released back into the ocean. The team at uShaka Marine World are equally dedicated to the marine animals and birds in their care.

One such animal, a seal nicknamed Dobby, became much beloved by his uShaka Marine World carers, and did so well in their care that he was released far offshore into the Agulhas current on 8 June. At the end of September, a fat and healthy Dobby was spotted by marine mammal biologist Mduduzi Seakamela ashore in False Bay, Western Cape.

Please note: Unless they’re nesting, turtles in South Africa should never be on the beach. If they are, it’s an indication that they’re unwell. Trying to return distressed turtles to the ocean will only add to their exhausted state, as they will not be able to battle their way through the surf.

If you see a stranded marine animal, please contact:

Cape: The Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation: 083 300 1663
KZN: uShaka Marine World Aquarium: 031 328 8222
South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR): 031 328 8222
KZN Wildlife: 033 845 1999
Gqeberha: Bayworld: 071 724 2122 (For whales, dolphins, seals, turtles and sharks, alive or deceased)
Hout Bay Seal Rescue Centre: Kim: 072 988 5193 (seals)
SPCA: 021 700 4158/9 or 083 326 1604 (A/H) (seals)

Bird centres

Earlier this year, Station 3 (Table Bay) assisted SANCCOB, the Two Oceans Aquarium and Robben Island Museum staff in the transport of cormorant chicks off Robben Island. In addition to evacuating and caring for abandoned chicks, SANCCOB, which operates 24/7, responds to oil spill disasters, and has a specialist chick-rearing unit to save African penguin eggs and chicks that have been abandoned for subsequent release back into the wild.

In a normal year where no oil spills occur, SANCCOB treats up to 2 500 seabirds, of which approximately 1 500 are African penguins. The remainder include various cormorants species (including the endangered Bank cormorant and Cape cormorant); various species of terns; pelagic birds such as albatrosses, gannets and petrels; oystercatchers, gulls, pelicans and other coastal birds found in the region. On average, 24 different seabird species are rehabilitated every year.

If you see a seabird in distress, please contact:

Cape: SANCCOB: 021 557 6155 or 078 638 3731 (A/H)
Gqeberha: SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC): 041 583 1830 or 064 019 8936 (After Hours) OR SANCCOB: 082 890 0207 or 064 019 8936 (A/H)
Mossel Bay: Seabird and Penguin Rehabilitation Center (SAPREC): 071 643 2496

Other agencies and people that assist with marine animals and birds include:

Southern Cape (from Gouritz to Wilderness)
: The Stranded Marine Animal Rescue Team (SMART), Val Marsh: 072 227 4715
Addo Elephant National Park/South African National Parks: 046 653 0601
Cannon Rock area: Verona Veltman: 083 654 9976 / Lana Cummings: 083 267 5198
Port Alfred & surrounds: Willem Nel (Ndlambe Municipality): 082 388 4600

The contacts listed are my no means exhaustive. But keep them and your local NSRI station’s telephone number handy, and also make a note of any local animal welfare organisations in your area that assist with rescue and rehabilitation.

We’d like to thank the organisations and people whose dedication had contributed to the savings of our marine life.

Also read...

Dobby the seal, rescued safely

Cape Cormorant chicks rescued at Robben Island

Juvenile whale assisted in disentanglement operation

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Meet the Barbas family from Oyster Bay (Station 36)

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