Entangled whale thanks its rescuers

Edited by Bev Mortimer


whale rescue 2
Whale rescue by SAWDN and NSRI Simonstown volunteers

In an incredible show of gratitude a Humpback whale entangled in rope for hours offshore of Cape Point yesterday, thanked its rescuers, a whale disentanglement team and NSRI volunteers. 

Once all rope and the floatation buoys were removed, the whale swam right up alongside the sea rescue craft, almost hugging the rescue boat and gently placed his head on the gunnel of the boat, remaining there for almost 20 minutes seemingly staring at his rescuers. All involved described a surreal and emotional moment between the rescue team and the beautiful animal, before it swam off.
The operation to free the whale involving SAWDN and NSRI Simonstown volunteers, lasted 6.5 hours, The whale was entangled in rope and floatation buoys in the vicinity of Rocky Banks  yesterday, 28 August.  

Two NSRI Simonstown sea rescue craft were dispatched carrying SAWDN volunteers and the whale, a sub adult 9 meter male Humpback whale was found about 5 nautical miles off-shore of Smitswinkel Bay, False Bay, heading slowly in the direction of Gordons Bay.
Using tried techniques the rescue craft slowly  approached the entangled whale from behind and the SAWDN team, using a grappling hook line, gently placed the line, attached to the sea rescue craft, onto a loop in the entangled rope. The whale appeared anxious and thrashed around a bit, said Mike Meyer, Head of SAWDN.

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The larger sea rescue craft moved up to head the whale off and this manoeuvre allowed the SAWDN team to begin cutting 9 wraps of rope that entangled the whale. All of the rope and the floatation buoys were cut, removed and recovered. Some of the specialised disentanglement equipment was damaged in the process..
The operation that started at 9.35 am was completed was completed at 3.54 pm.


SAWDN team The SA Whale Disentanglement Network team involved in in the whale rescue at False Bay – Photo: SAWDN.


SAWDN was formed in 2006 to deal with increased whale entanglements around the South African coastline.
Increased fishing, fishing techniques and fishing equipment coupled with increasing whale migrations saw a need for a specialised task team to follow in the footsteps of similar disentanglement networks globally that deal with the same scenario of whale entanglements around the world.
SAWDN, a volunteer network, are part of a global initiative to deal with these entanglements.
Spear headed by The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts SAWDN volunteers include members of The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts, the NSRI, the Police Dive Unit, DAPG (Dolphin Action and Protection Group), the Natal Sharks Board, Marine Environmental groups, Telkom Maritime Radio Services, Aquatic and Marine organisations and various volunteer Animal Rescue organisations around the coast.
Information, skills, experience and successful techniques are shared between all of the Whale Disentanglement Networks globally.
The costly specialised disentanglement equipment is purchased using public donations.
The equipment is designed and made in the United States and Australia.
Disentanglement equipment is often lost or damaged during operations. 
There are no patterns to the number of operations SAWDN deal with each year. One year to the next the number of disentanglement operations varies and various factors contribute to any increase or decrease in the number of operations and may include earlier whale migrations or later whale migrations and the time of the year.
While every effort is made to reduce these entanglements around the world the goal of these global Disentanglement Networks is to effectively respond to reports of entanglements and to release whales from entanglements.
SAWDN gets cooperation and assistance from the fishing community and fishing companies who follow guidelines for fishing practices that are monitored and regulated by The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and by The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts.
Fishing companies regularly volunteer their fishing boats and crews to assist SAWDN in disentanglement operations and this cooperation by the fishing community and by fishing companies is greatly appreciated.

1 Comment

  1. To the author
    Thank you for your article, it has great acknowledgments to all those in the Entanglement Network, government agencies and Fisherman alike, to many authors don’t paint the complete picture of how many agencies and individuals and how complex an effort like this is.

    I’d like to bring your attention to a growing concern worldwide.
    If you paint a picture of an animal in human terms, feelings and emotions that are clearly human you are painting a 40 ton animal to have human like cognizant thought. You lure the passionate less informed budding Naturalist into thinking, this animal will know I’m here to help it. In short, in the absence of an authorized network disentangler, they may give it a try. In some parts of the world this has had fatal results.

    Our industry must act without passion, Safety first, human safety. Clear headed strategies actions that will insure rescuers safety.

    This is the paragraph I’m referring to.
    Once all rope and the floatation buoys were removed, the whale swam right up alongside the sea rescue craft, almost hugging the rescue boat and gently placed his head on the gunnel of the boat, remaining there for almost 20 minutes seemingly staring at his rescuers. All involved described a surreal and emotional moment between the rescue team and the beautiful animal, before it swam off.

    Whale behavioral specialists will tell you this is the response of an animal that has been hogties for sometime and in just as often there are cases where the moment the animal felt freedom and possibly pain as ropes are pulled through open wounds they have lashed out.
    We avoid saying, the whale said thank you or he was staring at his rescuers.
    In order to see above the water a whale would need to bring his eye out of the water, the eyes you realize are low on the head and so when they are looking at you they role on there side or bring the whole head out of the water.

    I hope this does not feel like I’m bashing your Article, without this section I’d love to have used it in a FB page that we repost links of entanglements worldwide, trying to link the network efforts and personal involved.

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