An infant Southern Right Whale, measuring 30ft spent six weeks entangled in fishing gear. When rescuers found her, she had six ropes wrapped around her body and three ropes around her tail.
The ropes were attached to large red marker buoys, flotation buoys and other netting. It was spotted four times before the rescue, off Cape Town, South Africa, but had disappeared by the time workers arrived those four times.
Francois Stapelberg of African Eagle Marine Eco Tours spotted the whale last. He came back to shore to drop his tourist passengers and alerted the SA Whale Disentanglement Network.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and other volunteers rushed to the ailing whale’s side.
The whale was joined by two other whales which refused to leave its side even during the rescue operation. Mike Meyer, of the disentanglement network, said: ‘The whale was very tired indeed but the two others stayed by the side of the entangled whale which really added to the emotions. We were determined to free the whale today as it had been spotted in Table Bay, Clifton and up the West Coast but had always eluded us when we had tried to rescue it before.’
He also added, ‘When both crews reached the whale it was evident why it had eluded previous searches as the fishing gear wrapped round its tail had six entanglements of very heavy fishing gear.
‘The weight of the gear had forced the tail to mostly lie under the water surface out of sight but in an operation lasting 20 minutes we were able to cut free all the entangled lines. We then recovered all the ropes and netting gear and buoys for safe disposal while the disentangled whale and its two companions went happily on their way back out to sea again.’
He concluded, ‘We are confident that the entangled whale will survive its ordeal.’
Volunteers from the network have assisted and helped 174 whales since 2006. They have been searching for this whale since they heard about its entanglement in fish gear back in February.
The Southern Right Whales are 10,000 in numbers, live in the southern seas of the southern continent and can grow up to 60ft long and weigh up to 80 tons.
We are touched by the rescuers selfless kindness towards the ailing whale and it is a perfect story the world needs and to learn from.