Distressed whale disentangled
A routine seal monitoring expedition recently at Robberg Marine Protected Area (near Plettenberg Bay) turned into a full blown rescue operation of an entangled hump-back whale.
CapeNature and National Sea Rescue Institute (NRSI) personnel, on a boat sponsored by WWF Honda Marine Parks Programme, came across the entangled hump-back whale cow and discovered she was accompanied by a one month old calf. CapeNature conservation manager Henk Nieuwoudt, also a member of the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN), alerted a team of volunteers to assist with the rescue operation of the distressed whale immediately.
A joint team responded within minutes and soon thereafter confirmed that approximately 20 square feet of netting was entangled around the adult
hump-back whale cow. The 13 metre long whale had netting entangled around her body and dorsal fin. Soon thereafter, additional members of SAWDN, carrying specialised disentangling equipment, responded to the scene aboard the local whale watching vessel, Damara II.
Efforts to disentangle the adult cow were made more difficult after the cow appeared to be agitated by the rescue team’s presence. “At one point the two whales were swimming quite rapidly and volunteers battled to free the netting from the torso of the whale, losing some of specialised disentangling equipment in the process.
The operation eventually became too dangerous for our members as the whale was extremely protective over the calf and after three hours the operation was suspended in the vicinity off-shore of Natures Valley. At the time of suspending the operation the two whales had moved quite far up east the coast. It is believed that the attempts of the team and the weight loss that usually occurs while feeding a calf might have assisted in freeing the whale cow from the netting, as eager spotters all the way to Port Elizabeth have not yet spotted the whale cow and calf.
The SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) covers the entire South African coastline and is a made up of specialised network of Volunteers From NSRI, The Department Of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coast, CapeNature, SANParks, the SA Police Services and other organisations and volunteers.