SOUTH AFRICAN WHALE DISENTANGLEMENT NETWORK (SAWDN)
was founded in September 2005 by Marine & Coastal Management
(now Oceans & Coasts (O&C)) and the Dolphin Action &
Protection Group (DAPG).
are visiting and migrating past South Africa's 3000 km coastline
annually and it follows that with the increase in their population
there are going to be more and more entanglements in fishing gear
such as rock lobster buoys and ropes and possibly the shark nets
on the east coast. The two species of whales mainly affected are
southern rights and humpbacks.
whales is highly dangerous and it was of concern in past years
when laymen went out to entangled whales, jumped into the water
with them, climbed on their backs etc to try and dislodge ropes
and netting without any proper training or specialised equipment.
In the USA, for example, getting into the water to try and disentangle
whales is not allowed, except in extreme situations and this is
the policy in South Africa as well. Disentanglements can only
be executed by experienced teams of volunteers, properly trained
and approved by the Department of Environment, using equipment
specifically designed for disentanglement.
In relation to volunteer teams the Department
of Environment called
for volunteers from their bases around the coast as well as from
other governmental and non-governmental organisations.
present, apart from officers of Oceans & Coasts (O&C),
- The Department of
Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries (DAFF);
Table Mountain Parks Board; SA National Parks; Cape Nature Conservation;
SA Police Sea Borderline Control (Waterwing); SA Police Divers;
Mammal Research Institute;
The Boat-based whale watching fraternity in various areas; and
Anumber of National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) from stations
around the coast.
The Sharks Board KZN is also a member of the Network, but their
disentanglements, ie in the shark gillnets, require different
techniques & training to those used to disentangle fishing
SAWDN is run under
the auspices of the Department of Environment - Oceans & Coasts
The Network works through an Executive Committee of 12 officers
from various organisations. Members of the Rock Lobster Industry
also serve on the executive committee, which is chaired by Nan
Rice (DAPG) and the vice-chairman, Mike Meyer, a marine scientist
(Oceans & Coasts), who is also Director of Operations &
Training. Donations towards SAWDN operations are channelled through
the Dolphin Action & Protection Group, which has administered
this funding over the past four years, and together with O&C
and the Sharks Board KZN has paid for a great deal of disentanglement
and safety equipment, apart from helping to fund training sessions
in various places. Tsitsikamma Crystal, a water bottling company
that carries DAPG's SAVE THE WHALES logo, donates a percentage
of its sales to the Group on a quarterly basis, has also donated
funds which have paid for equipment and helped with training sessions.
DAPG does a large amount of the administrative work for SAWDN,
which includes circulating information to volunteers, minutes
of meetings, organising meetings and dealing with correspondence.
It appears that calves and sub-adult whales are more likely to become
entangled. Curiosity and lack of experience are possible factors
that are the cause of this. Around the South African coastline humpback
and southern right whales are the species that more often than not
Disentangling large whales is a highly dangerous operation. SAWDN
volunteers all carry high risk insurance and are trained. This is
no job for laymen. So far teams have had numbers of successes in
disentangling animals. Depending on weather, state of the sea and
distance from shore it is not always possible, without risking lives
to reach entangled whales, and if they are still swimming strongly
they disappear. Sometimes ropes, traps etc., anchor the whale to
the seabed. In such a case it makes the job of disentanglement a
little easier. From scarring photographed on some of the whales
seen around South Africa’s coastline, it is obvious that some
animals have shed whatever had entangled them.
Example of possible rope entanglement, which had been shed by a southern right whale.
Photo: Dave Hurwitz
Disentanglement of a whale is by no means the end of their problems.
According to Dr Bob Bowman - an American expert on whale disentanglement,
- disentanglement is only the first step in the recovery of an
entangled whale. Entangled whales sustain significant bruising
and even sometimes life threatening internal injuries that are
imperceptible without a necropsy. It is very difficult to determine
the extent and effect of injuries on entangled whales and they
are frequently surprised about which whales survive entanglement
trauma and which ones do not.
humpback whale that became entangled in fishing nets was freed
by members of the South African Whale Disentaglement Network (SAWDN)
of Cape Point
on 21 June 2011. Rescuers are seen here trying to cut the ropes
of the whale.
Picture by Chad Chapman
Mike Meyer (Oceans & Coasts) is Director of Operations and
training and with colleagues regularly trains new volunteers as
well as running refresher courses in various key areas around
the coast. All these areas now have trained volunteers ready to
go out to entangled whales at a moment’s notice. It has
taken a great deal of time and effort to get this far and the
Oceans & Coasts team doing this need to be commended, as training
is done in their spare time. SAWDN is also fortunate to have the
use of National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) boats and volunteers
when needed and they are warmly thanked. Volunteers are not allowed
to disentangle whales in rough weather.
Human safety comes first. This is a condition laid down in SAWDN’s
SAWDN continues to go well and its efficient operation has been
praised by overseas countries that have similar disentanglement
Session: Volunteers at Simon's Town Harbour
WARNING: Under Section 3(1) of the Marine Living Resources Act (1998), NO-ONE unless trained and appointed by the Department may render assistance to trapped or entangled whales. These amendments to the Act were gazetted in July 2008.
Further, it is mandatory that all volunteers carry high risk insurance.