News article on whale entanglements

Whales in a tangle of fishing lines and nets

BOBBY JORDAN | 07 July, 2016 07:14

blue whale

Blue whale. File photo. Image by: NOAA/ REUTERS

Whales are popular visitors to South Africa, but an increasing number of them must be regretting the long swim to our shores.

That’s because of a sharp increase in the number of entanglements in nets and other fishing gear, which is prompting concern from members of South Africa’s Whale Disentanglement Network.

The group says the number of whale rescues has increased sharply over the past 10 years.

An adult humpback whale had to be cut loose from rope lines and flotation buoys near Lower Point, Jeffrey’s Bay, on Tuesday . Two weeks ago a whale had to be disentangled from rope s near Miller’s Point, Cape Town.

Whales typically start arriving in Cape waters in late winter to spawn in the many protected sandy bays.

Network spokesman Craig Lambinon said an apparent increase in fishing gear was the likely cause of more frequent entanglements.

“Thousands of [fishing] lines are being laid all over the place. The whale swims between these lines and then turns around.

“We have a very good success rate in cutting them free.”

He said volunteers were rescuing at least five whales a year, representing a marked increase.

“I don’t think we had this problem at all 10 years ago,” he said.

On the positive side, the network had a massive success rate, thanks largely to speedy assistance from fishermen, such as rock lobster quota holders, who lay sea-bed traps attached to ropes.

Said Lambinon: “The fishermen are extremely helpful. They lift the lines for us and they even sacrifice some of their lines to assist us.”

Tuesday’s incident in Jeffrey’s Bay involved members of the National Sea Rescue Institute who, with volunteers, used specialised cutting equipment to remove rope from around the whale’s tail.

The mission prompted praise from network head Mike Meyer from the Department of Environmental Affairs, who said it was testimony to an effective response strategy.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries did not respond to queries.

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About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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