Trapped Humback whale finally freed at Table Bay

A Humpback whale trapped between a ship and the quayside in the Port of Table Bay for several hours was eventually pushed and coaxed by a police diver and two NSRI inflatable craft to swim out to sea.

photo2-620x465Photo: NSRI

Despite several other attempts to rescue the juvenile whale, estimated to be just under 1 year old and about 8 meters in length, by numerous NSRI and marine and coastal authorities, the whale refused to move. It was unable to turn around and nudged against tyre fenders which possibly were responsible for the damage to its mouth.

Rescue attempts involved using a pole and torch light to try to move the whale backwards to a wide gap of open water at the front of the ship, and the massive time consuming task of then moving the massive 24300 ton, 590 foot ship MV Explorer away from the quayside. But these attempts failed. The whale remained where it was.

According to the official NSRI release at 11.40 pm on 27 October, the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) was alerted by, in the Port of Table Bay, of a whale appearing to be trapped between the quayside and the ship at E Berth, Duncan Docks.

TNPA activated the Department of Environmental Affairs Oceans and Coasts that sent Mike Meyer to investigate. TNPA officials were also dispatched and NSRI and TNPA tug boats were placed on alert.

On arrival Meyer found the Humpback whale appeared too disorientated to move backwards towards the gap and the open water and remained wedged against the quayside where the ship was pressed hard against it.

NSRI Headquarters, NSRI Table Bay, NSRI Bakoven, a WC Government Health EMS rescue squad, the Police Dive Unit, Harbour Police and the Police Sea Borderline unit were activated. It was agreed that the MV Explorer would have to be moved aside to make space for a rescue effort and TNPA, together with the ship’s agent, authorised the operation to move the ship.

Two TNPA tug boats, Merlot and Pinotage, and TNPA harbour pilot Yolisa Tshangela, were dispatched while the ship’s crew were mustered, along with TNPA shore crews, to move the ship to the middle of the harbour to make room for a rescue effort to take place.

NSRI Table Bay launched their sea rescue rigid inflatable boat (RIB) Rotary Endeavor and Sea Borderline Police launched a Police Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB). Once the ship had been moved aside, the two RIBs, with NSRI crews and Police Divers, attempted to coax the whale and guide it away from the quay side.

The whale stubbornly refused to budge despite the best efforts of the rescue crews, on the two RIBs. A police diver, Douglas Jones, volunteered to get into the water and physically push the whale.

Jones managed to push the whale away from the edge of the quayside and then both RIB guided the whale out towards the Port exit. Jones remained in the water next to the whale and continued to gently push it along in conjunction with the two rescue RIBs.

Efforts were then began to re-berth the ship.

During these efforts to coax the whale out to sea, the whale attempted to return to its original place next to the quay side but remarkably the whale then decided to follow the tug boat Merlot, which had by now released her lines to the now docked ship.

Meyer estimated the juvenile whale, distressed and disorientated, may have mistaken the tug boat Merlot for its mother. The tug boat was instructed to head out to sea and the whale followed Merlot out of the Port exit to open waters.

Meyer was cautiously optimistic that the whale will survive this ordeal fearing that the whale may be too disorientated, and since it appears to be separated from its mother, to survive.

The Port of Table Bay and beaches in the Table Bay vicinity will be monitored to see if the whale returns into Port or if it beaches along the coastline.

The rescue operation was completed at 4.10 am this morning.

Thanks have been expressed to Captain Jeremy Kingston, of MV Excplorer and to his crew.

MV Explorer, a floating University of Semester at Sea, departs Cape Town for Argentina on Wednesday. Students of the ship gave the whale a number of names during the rescue operation.

All services involved are commended for participating in this rescue operation.

(NSRI release edited by St Francis Chronicle)


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