Two whales swimming off the coast of South Africa found themselves tangled in fishing gear until rescuers arrived to help.
Whales are the gentle giants of the sea. Their massive size and peaceful nature make them a favorite sea creature to many.
Unfortunately, whales are not always able to live in peace. They sometimes combat things such as beaching, illegal whale hunting, and becoming entangled in fishing line and nets.
The latter recently happened to a couple of humpback whales near the coast of South Africa. Eyewitnesses reported the tangled creatures to South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). The institute quickly dispatched the SA Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) to located and assist the distressed whales if possible.
The first whale was found three nautical miles south-southwest of its last reported location. Once it was located by the SAWDN, it was determined to be a juvenile humpback whale measuring nearly 25 feet in length.
According to a report released by the NSRI, “the whale, despite having freedom of movement, was found to be heavily entangled in multiple thick fishing rope and lines with a rope line running through the whales mouth, a rope line around the right flipper, and multiple rope lines wrapped tightly around the tail stock.”
The NSRI report went on to explain that “In a difficult and delicate disentanglement operation the rope line through the mouth was cut first. Then the rope line around the right fin was cut and after that, multiple cuts to rope line around the tail stock. It appears that the rope lines have mostly been cut free but it is strongly suspected that some rope line remaining will fall away from the whale’s natural movement. The whale appears healthy and SAWDN are satisfied that the whale will survive.”
Further searching led the SAWDN team to the second whale; a 36-foot-long sub adult humpback whale. This whale was in more dire straits than the first whale, as it was tangled in fishing gear that was anchored to the sea floor which made it almost impossible for the whale to come up for air.
“The rope line causing the entrapment was cut first and although the whale was free to move it appeared that the whale may have assumed that it was still trapped to the ocean floor as the whale remained in the same place not attempting to swim off. This gave SAWDN volunteers the opportunity to cut further rope line free,” reads the NSRI report.
Once free of the lines, the whale appeared to be healthy and swam off with strength. This was one of the three most difficult disentanglement operations the SAWDN has ever undertaken and the organization is confident that both whales will survive their ordeals.
The only casualties of the operation were an action camera that was knocked off a rescuer’s helmet by a whale’s flipper into the water along with a specially designed cutting blade and two cutting poles. That is a small price to pay to help save two of the largest denizens of the deep that swim the oceans.