WATCH | Whale tale has a happy ending as rescuers remove tail's burden

30 March 2019 - 10:28 By DAVE CHAMBERS
A southern right whale and its two mates swim off after the disentanglement operation off Sea Point on March 29 2019
A southern right whale and its two mates swim off after the disentanglement operation off Sea Point on March 29 2019
Image: SA Whale Disentanglement Network

A young whale whose tail had been entangled in fishing gear for weeks was finally freed of its burden off Cape Town on Friday.

Volunteers from the SA Whale Disentanglement Network and the National Sea Rescue Institute spent 20 minutes cutting the 10m southern right whale free of a bundle of ropes dragging its tail beneath the surface.

Mike Meyer, of the disentanglement network, said two other whales remained by the entangled juvenile’s side, "which always adds an element of emotion to these operations".

Volunteers from the network, which has assisted 174 whales since it was set up in 2006, had been searching for the whale since it was seen entangled in fishing gear in February.

A network statement said since then the whale had been reported in Table Bay, Clifton and up the West Coast, but it had eluded a search — including two attempts to find it by gyrocopter pilot and photographer Jean Tresfon.

At 2.30pm on Friday, Francois Stapelberg of African Eagle Marine Eco Tours came across the whale 3km off Sea Point Pavilion. After returning his tourists to the shore, he relocated the whale.

"We also requested assistance from the Cape Town Boating Network and they had a member, who is also an NSRI spotter, locate the whale using a telescope from a residence high up in Sea Point," said the statement.

"The NSRI Kommetjie sea rescue craft was launched accompanied by network volunteers, and on arrival on the scene ... it became evident why the whale had eluded previous search efforts for so long.

"A heavy clump of fishing gear was wrapped around the whale's tail in six entanglements, forcing the tail to mostly lie under the water surface."

During the disentangling operation, the whale dived several times. Meyer said the proximity of two other whales made the operation challenging.

"The weight of the gear caused the tail to lie under water most of the time, which made it difficult to determine which whale we were there to disentangle," he said.

"In an operation lasting about 20 minutes we were able to cut free all entangled lines, and all of the ropes and gear and buoys were recovered for disposal.

"The disentangled whale and its two companions have gone on their way and we are confident of the affected whale’s survival."