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Whale entanglement calls attention to the harms of discarded fishing rope

Whales beng assisted in a disentanglement operation by SA Whale Disentanglement Network. | SAWDN

Whales beng assisted in a disentanglement operation by SA Whale Disentanglement Network. | SAWDN

Published Dec 21, 2021

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Cape Town - A whale entangled in fishing rope that appeared to be anchored to the sea bed off-shore, south-west off Dassen Island last week has again sounded the call to reduce whale entanglements through implementing rope-less fishing.

SA Whale Disentanglement Network (Sawdn) volunteers were activated following reports of the plight of the whale.

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“An 11-meter Humpback whale was found entangled in fishing rope and two floatation buoys with the fishing rope anchored to the seabed. The whale had good movement and was able to surface for air at will, but appeared to be unsettled,” SAWDN duty co-ordinator Marc de la Porte said.

De la Porte said four wraps of rope were found with two of the wraps around the tail and a wrap of rope around the body, which was released using specialised cutting equipment that freed the whale from the entrapment to the seabed anchor.

“On arrival the whale appeared to be unsettled, which at first threatened to hamper rescue efforts, but the care and gentle approach of the team ensured this successful operation and the whale swam away appearing to be healthy and we witnessed the whale joining a large pod of whales further out to sea,” said De la Porte.

He said all of the fishing rope and buoys were recovered for disposal.

Whales being assisted in a disentanglement operation by SA Whale Disentanglement Network.Picture: SAWDN

A WWF-funded study published earlier this year by UCT researcher Michael Daniel and associate professor Colin Attwood showed how the risk of whale entanglements could be drastically reduced if trap fisheries, often used for catching rock lobster and octopus, implemented rope-less fishing techniques.

WWF South Africa marine scientist Monica Stassen said one of the biggest threats to whales and dolphins was accidental capture in fishing gear as whale entanglements in fishing lines and ropes was a growing challenge which led to suffering and death.

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“When a whale gets caught in fishing lines or ropes it could drown due to the exhaustion of dragging the lines as it swims or it may get trapped below the surface and not be able to breathe in air.

“A whale may also develop an infection from the ropes cutting into its skin or it could starve to death due to restricted movement from being entangled in fishing gear,” said Stassen.

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