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Three recent animal rescues were cause for celebration... The NSRI is always available to help our aquatic friends to safety.

Whale tale

When a juvenile Humpback whale became entangled in ropes and nets out at sea off the coast of Gqeberha mid-morning on 21 September, eyewitness reports reached the NSRI’s Station 6 crew, which swiftly launched two rescue craft to assist.

After searching for the whale for some time, it was eventually located, tired and showing signs of distress, with a rope trailing 17 metres behind. Two buoys were entangled in fishing rope that was wrapped around parts of the whale.

Among those who responded was coxswain Kevin Warren, one of several crew trained in SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) whale disentanglement techniques and methods:

“This particular juvenile humpback seemed to want our help; however, it could’ve just been due to it being a lot weaker than other encounters we have had in the past,” says Kevin. “It would allow us to get right up close to it and would almost stop moving around as we were busy cutting the ropes free. The rescue was physically challenging due to the number of ropes tightly bound around its tail, which we assume were originally a body wrap (a reference to when nets or ropes become wrapped around a whale’s body)

Despite the use of specialised cutting equipment, progress was slow, and the operation was paused after a cutting pole broke. Eventually, though, after much manoeuvring, the exhausted whale was set free.

“Being so close to the whale and seeing it struggle, you just know that you must get in there and get the job done. That moment when you cut the last rope free, seeing them swim off, makes the interaction with these animals so special. This is why we do what we do,” says Kevin. “A special thanks to the rest of the NSRI/SAWDN team who worked tirelessly to ensure the objective was achieved safely.”

Since Station 6 is often called on to assist with entangled whales, five of the crew are trained to deal with this sensitive type of operation (10 more have also recently been trained for the wider region). The busiest times are during migration season, but numbers vary. “Last season we had no calls, and this season we have already done three,” says Station 6 commander Justin Erasmus. “We just like to be ready when we’re needed.”

Flipping fantastic

On 14 October, Kevin and the Station 6 crew were involved in yet another animal rescue: this time, a male Bottle Nose Dolphin had beached near Sardinia Bay.

The call for help came when members of the public spotted the dolphin alive but beached in shallow surf. NSRI, Bayworld, and the NMB (Nelson Mandela Bay) Marine Animal Stranding Network swiftly joined forces.

“We were pressed for time to get the rescue vehicles through a tight gap between a steep dune and the in-coming tide,” says Kevin. “We had a roughly 30-minute window to safely package and load the estimated 300kg dolphin onto the Bayworld vehicle, otherwise we would been trapped by the high tide. This would mean going the long way around, which would take up valuable time. The duty crew were prepped and ready for us to load the animal onto the NSRI vessel for the sea leg. Loading the large dolphin onto the confined space of our rescue craft was a challenge on its own. With the recent rough sea conditions we have been experiencing, the trip out to sea was slow going, as we had to ensure the safety of the dolphin and not add to its injuries.”

After the complex operation, the adult male Bottle Nose Dolphin was released five nautical miles off-shore into Algoa Bay. The dolphin, showing resilience as it swam away after release, has a promising outlook, according to a Bayworld marine scientist.

“The release was really awesome,” says Kevin. “Normally, dolphins are disorientated and weak [after a rescue], and can take several minutes to get mobile again once released back into the water. You could see that this one was raring to get going. We slipped it off the vessel and it swam away with confidence, surfaced, gave a chuff, and was gone.”

Should you encounter a beached dolphin, keep the following tips in mind:

  • DO report it to your local marine welfare organisation or the NSRI.
  • DON'T push the animal back out to sea.
  • DO stay with the animal until rescuers arrive, but use caution.
  • DON’T touch the animal as this stimulates it; you want the animal to remain as calm as possible.
  • DO keep its skin moist and cool by either splashing water over its body or covering it with wet towels, avoiding the blowhole.
  • DON'T cover or obstruct the blowhole.
  • DO keep crowds and dogs/pets away and noise levels down.
  • DO report all dead marine mammals.

Seal of approval

This seal was one happy chappie when NSRI volunteers from Station 17 in Hermanus managed to free him from a fishing net he’d been caught up in on the beach.

On Sunday, 17 September, the crew received a call requesting assistance from the Overberg Stranding Network*. On arrival, they set to work and managed to free the distressed animal after a few minutes using tools that were designed for whale disentanglement. In no time, the clearly relieved seal galumphed off towards the sea, where it was surely reunited with its pod.

“It feels wonderful to help an animal,” says Class 3 Coxswain Willem de Bruyn, who took part in the rescue. “The seal doesn't trust you and thinks you want to harm him, so getting him freed and watching him return to the sea is an amazing feeling.”

* The Overberg Stranding Network includes Cape Nature, UP Mammal Research Institute, Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Overstrand District Municipality, SANParks, SA Shark Conservancy, and others.

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