Whale Entanglement Case in South Africa Highlights Global Problem
A Southern Right Whale severely entangled in fishing ropes was discovered in Cape Town, South Africa last week. Experts estimate the whale had been entangled for up to a month due to the severe damage the rope had inflicted on its skin. The case highlights the global problem of Whale Entanglement.
Whale Entanglement is a global problem which results in the death of hundred of thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals world-wide each year. The entanglement is caused by fish nets, abandoned marine-gear or even nets put in place to keep sharks out and swimmers safe, as in a recent case in Sydney.
The West Coast of South Africa is both a feeding ground for Whales and a lucrative spot for fishing spots. This clash often results in entanglement, such as last week's Southern Right Whale.
Ironically, rescuers used a technique developed by whalers to free the entangled Southern Right. "Kegging" is a modified whaling technique which slows the whale down and keeps the whale close to the surface by using extremely large buoys. This is dangerous work, as a distressed Southern Right (which can weigh up to 80 tons) has a tendency to thrash about. The rescue team, consisting of four Environment Affairs staff and nine Police Officers, was thus required to carry high-risk insurance. Spokesperson for the Department of Environment's Ocean and Coast branch, Mike Meyer, commented that it was the worst case of entanglement he had seen in years.
The fatigued whale was so severely entangled that the ropes had become embedded in its flesh. Adding to this, the whale had been towing a mass of ropes underneath its body as well as dragging a buoy behing it. The condition of the ropes alerted the team to the period of time the whale had been trapped as they were covered in algae. Another sign of the whale's deteriorating health and speed was the numerous barnacles attached to the whale's body which only occurs if a whale is very slow-moving.
In Australia, environmentalists have been training to improve their Kegging Skills as well as helping bring the problem to light. Local independant, not-for-profit organization, Humpbacks & Highrises, has created a petition to help stop entanglement. All you need to do is simply enter your name and your email address and just like that you have potentially helped save a whale from the deadly thread of entanglement. To date they have 712 signatures, however they are aiming for 15,000- the number of whales that migrate to our waters over the winter.