Photo Credit: NSRI

Two whales have been rescued in the space of two days thanks to South African Whale Disentanglement Network volunteers and the NSRI.


Western Cape (04 February 2022) – The South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) was called out two days in a row and thankfully was able to save two whales. That means they have now saved 208 whales from fishing ropes, lines, anchors, and buoys.

The first rescue took place on the 1st of January 2022. Andre Livingstone-Louw coordinator of the SAWDN, shared how the events unfolded. The team got the call and set off at 8:15 am.

“NSRI Yzerfontein launched the sea rescue craft Rescue 34, accompanied by SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) volunteers, following eye-witness reports of a whale entangled in fishing rope lines in the vicinity South of Dassen Island on the West Coast.

On arrival on the scene, an 8-meter juvenile Humpback whale was found appearing to have an entanglement around the caudal peduncle. With the whale not lifting its tail, concerns were that the rope wraps, anchored to the seabed, may also be around the tail but poor water visibility prevented a thorough assessment. A flotation buoy was found attached to the fishing rope wraps.

The whale was hardly surfacing and we attached a grappling iron which was used to hook the fishing line below the buoy to manoeuvre the NSRI rescue craft closer to the whale.

A kegging buoy was then placed on the fishing trailing the buoy in an effort to prevent the whale from diving below the surface and out of reach of the specialised cutting equipment.

We managed to pull the whales tail closer to the sea surface and attached a second kegging buoy and a second grappling hook and attach floatations which would be used to recover the entangling lines once cut.

Several attempts were made to cut the entangling lines but the murky water conditions, the depth that the whale was trapped on the line leading to the seabed and floatation buoys that blocked us from getting good visuals under water forced us to rearrange the configuration.

During the operation, a second whale was surfacing nearby but we could confirm that this whale was not entangled. The NSRI Yzerfontein was activated to evacuate an ill fisherman from a fishing vessel.

We diverted from the whale operation and carried out that patient operation with success, bringing the fisherman to shore in a stable condition without incident.

We returned to the whale and on our arrival on the scene, we found the grappling hook and kegging buoy had disappeared and hopes were raised that the whale had been freed but on closer inspection, we found the whale remained trapped on the fishing line anchored to the seabed.

We managed to make 2 cuts to 2 lines and the second cut freed the whale from the entrapment and the fishing rope fell away and was able to be recovered.

The whale swam away free of fishing rope and appeared to be strong and healthy.

We are confident that this operation was successful.

The NSRI Yzerfontein sea rescue craft returned to base and the operation completed at 14h20.”

The second rescue took place the next morning, the crew hit the ocean even earlier than the day before. They had to act quick as the report had mentioned two whales.

“At 07h35, Wednesday, 2 February, NSRI Yzerfontein duty crew and SAWDN volunteers were activated following reports of 2 whales entangled in fishing rope approximately 3 nautical miles apart from each other in the vicinity South of Dassen Island.

NSRI Yzerfontein launched the sea rescue craft Rescue 34, accompanied by SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) volunteers, and on arrival on the scene following an extensive search only 1 whale, a 9.5 meter juvenile Humpback whale was located.

The entanglement was seen to be wrapping around the body and through the mouth. The whale was diving and taking the gear down for 2-5 min at a time and the animal had to be located again. It was anchored to the bottom but had a long line attached giving the whale a large area to move but not free-swimming but locked to the bottom by one trap, a long rope, and a buoy. The rope seemed to be wrapped twice around the body behind the dorsal fin with one wrap through the mouth and over the bonnet. There was a long line trailing behind the whale attached to a trap.

No wraps were seen on the tail or caudal peduncle.

As the whale did not spend much time at the surface, the grappling iron was used to hook the trailing line and attached a kegging buoy approximately 30m behind the whale. This would ensure the trap is secured once the animal is freed.

We then move closer to the whale by pulling ourselves forward on the entanglement line. The grappling iron was removed if it was needed again. Another kegging buoy was then placed about 5 meters from the entanglement position. This prevented the whale from diving again.

Our NSRI Yzerfontein rescue craft Rescue 34 then attempted to approach the head of the whale several times so that the first cut could be made, but the whale kept avoiding the vessel. The whale was given time to relax and again the vessel was positioned to ensure the whale surfacing close enough for a cut to be made. This worked, and the whale surfaced next to Rescue 34 and one cut was made to the line exiting the mouth at 12:05. The vessel moved away to reposition for the next cut, but it was then noted that all the entanglement released from the whale and the whale swam away free of all gear.

All equipment was recovered and the whale swam away appearing to be strong and healthy.

We are confident with the success of this operation.

Our NSRI sea rescue craft returned to base and the operation completed at 12h45.”

The SAWDN was established in 2006 to manage entangled whales using specialised equipment. They work with highly trained volunteers from several networks, including:

  • National Sea Rescue Institute,
  • Telkom Maritime Radio Services,
  • KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board,
  • Department of Environmental Affairs,
  • Centre for Sustainable Oceans at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology,
  • Cape Nature,
  • Mammal Research Institute,
  • South African National Parks,
  • South African Police Service,
  • Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries,
  • Bayworld,
  • Various Boat Based Whale Watching and Shark Cage Diving Operators,
  • The Rock Lobster Industry and the Octopus Industry and,
  • Dolphin Action and Protection Group.

Sources: Various – Linked Above
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Tyler Leigh Vivier is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Her passion is to spread good news across South Africa with a big focus on environmental issues, animal welfare and social upliftment. Outside of Good Things Guy, she is an avid reader and lover of tea.

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