28 October 2004

Stricken humpback whale saved

Two spear-fishermen and a determined marine charters operator have finally freed the stricken humpback whale that was spotted last week off Seaview snagged in trawl lines.

In a dramatic bid on Friday, after being tipped off by the Bayworld Stranding Network, National Sea Rescue Institute volunteers managed to free the whale of a buoy and one of the lines before one of the men was whacked across the chest by the animal's tail.

With concerns about their safety, and that their attention was forcing the whale too close to the shore, the decision was made to back off.

Before they did so, the men managed to slice open the remaining two buoys with the aim of reducing their buoyancy and helping the animal to sound, and also creating extra drag to help work the lines loose.

A crew of police divers tried later in the day to get rid of the rest of the tangle, but they could not get close enough to the whale.

Lloyd Edwards of Raggy Charters said yesterday that he and provincial spear-fishermen Mark Jackson and Gletwyn Rubidge had located the humpback at The Kom just off Noordhoek on Saturday.

"It was desperately tired and swimming on its side. We managed to free the buoys and remaining ropes."

Edwards believes the rope probably came from a West Coast lobster fishing operation off Cape Recife.

Edwards said he was angry and frustrated by the rescue authorities’ approach. Citing the tangled Southern right spotted in mid-August, which disappeared before it could be helped, and the condition of the latest victim, he said something had to be done.

To this end, he has assembled a team of volunteer provincial spear- fishermen and commercial divers that are prepared to help "at a moment's notice".

Although Edwards is technically not allowed to venture closer than 300m to a whale, Marine and Coastal Management senior inspector Eugene Swart said no action would be taken as he was helping a stricken animal.

He urged Edwards to become part of the established rescue team, which is run through MCM and co-ordinated by Wendy Kant at Bayworld.

This article was originally published on page 4 of Cape Times on October 26, 2004


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