A juvenile humpback whale has finally been freed after a marathon operation over two days, deemed to be the most difficult disentanglement operation to date, the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) said on Sunday.
SAWDN spokesman Craig Lambinon said the operation started shortly after 3pm on Saturday when SAWDN volunteers were activated following reports of a whale discovered by a local fishing ski-boat crew to be entangled in fishing rope and flotation buoys 500 metres offshore of Cape Point on the False Bay side.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Simonstown sea rescue craft Spirit of Surf-ski II launched and on arrival on the scene stood by at the whale – an 8.5 metre juvenile humpback – while the SAWDN volunteers geared up and were brought to the scene aboard the sea rescue craft Spirit of Safmarine III, arriving at sunset.
SAWDN and environmental affairs oceans and coasts head Mike Meyer said the whale was found to be trapped to the seabed entangled in multiple ropes and flotation buoys.
“The whale had at least five ropes entangled around the flukes and tail and the rope was twisted and entangled into a birds’ nest of rope and, although the whale had minimal movement, it kept avoiding the efforts by SAWDN to cut at the rope by diving below the surface, making efforts to cut rope extremely difficult,” he said.
It was suspected that the whale may have dragged the rock lobster nets to the area that appeared to have become snarled in rocks closer to the shore, in effect anchoring the whale to the seabed.
The operation on Saturday evening continued after sunset and under floodlights at least three cuts were made to rope. However, the operation became increasingly hazardous, particularly with the whale diving to avoid the cutting efforts. It was deemed too unsafe to continue at night and the operation was suspended at 7pm.
An all ships maritime navigational hazard alert was posted warning vessels in the area of the whale’s position and the alert continued to be broadcast throughout the night. The local ski-boat fraternity were also notified to avoid the area, as fears were that vessels could injure the animal.
NSRI Simonstown duty crew volunteered to launch again before sunrise on Sunday morning, accompanied by the SAWDN volunteers. They arrived on the scene at first light to find the whale in the same place and the disentanglement operation continued.
Although the cetacean showed signs of being tired, efforts to cut the ropes continued to be hampered by it diving. The operation required more resources and a larger vessel was summoned.
Fisherman Gary Nel volunteered the deep-sea fishing vessel Albatross from Kalk Bay Harbour and once on the scene the crew aboard the Albatross were able to lift the lines from a relative distance away, raising the lines leading towards the whale while the SAWDN volunteers cut the lifted lines.
Eventually after a seven-hour operation, deemed to be the most difficult disentanglement operation to date, all of the lines, estimated to be at least 11 wraps, were cut free of the whale and recovered. The freed whale appeared to be strong and healthy and swam off.
“SAWDN expresses heartfelt gratitude to the NSRI Simonstown sea rescue craft and the NSRI Simonstown coxswains and crew and to the seamanship displayed by the fishing boat Albatross and her crew,” Lambinon said.
– African News Agency (ANA)