At 09h00, Wednesday, 02 March, the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) volunteers were activated following eye-witness reports of a whale appearing to be entangled in fishing rope and floatation buoys off-shore of Bantry Bay.
It appears that the whale had first been noticed the night before in the same vicinity by paddlers who had then reported it during a morning paddle today after coming across the whale again. Residents along the Bantry Bay Beach front had also seen the whale this morning and they had reported the sighting of the entangled whale.
Members of SAWDN, on a sea rescue craft launched from NSRI Bakoven, responded to investigate and found the whale, a 9 meter Southern Right juvenile whale, approximately 1 nautical mile off-shore of Mouille Point.
The whale, appearing to be healthy and able to move freely, had fishing rope around the front flippers, over its back and wrapped between the two flippers. A total of 4 ropes attached to the flippers with 2 small floatation buoys attached.
Sea conditions were calm but with very poor water visibility and the whale was followed while attempts were made to cut rope free but the attempts were unsuccessful as the whale kept moving out of reach of the specialised cutting equipment on the long cutting poles and the whale was followed as it headed towards deeper water and diving beneath the surface regularly.
A lead rope was attached to the whale, from the rescue craft, so that the whale, which kept diving beneath the surface, could be followed.
About 5 nautical miles off-shore of Three Anchor Bay the whale stopped in amongst a kelp bed and according to The Department of Environmental Affairs – Oceans and Coasts Mike Meyer, head of SAWDN, the whale appeared to be playing with the Kelp and seemed extremely calm and friendly which enabled the rescue craft to get close enough to the whale to enable the SAWDN volunteers to begin cutting on rope without any hinderance from the whale.
At that stage a dense fog had rolled in hampering visibility further (together with the poor water visibility) but efforts to cut the ropes continued and SAWDN are confident that all 4 ropes were cut successfully before visibility was completely lost.
Video footage and photographs, that will be made available on the NSRI website – www.nsri.org.za – has been examined to determine if all 4 ropes were completely cut.
There is the possibility that one rope remained and although that rope is not hindering the whales freedom of movement SAWDN are prepared to respond to any further sightings made of the whale in the area and once visibility improves to examine if a rope remains.