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Endangered Humpback: Disentanglement Rescue Off South Africa

Jul 03, 2015 04:24 PM EDT

Wednesday off the coast of South Africa, a trained crew arrived next to a young humpback whale, about 26 feet long, which was caught in rope and buoys associated with fishing. In an hour's time, they were able to free the whale. You can watch a YouTube video of part of the operation here.

Marine mammal entanglement, or by-catch, is a problem worldwide and results in the death of hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals each year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) Alaskan Fisheries organization has said.

Humpback Whales, Southern Right Whales, and other whales gather each winter in the waters off South Africa's 1,864-mile coastline to calve and mate.

In Wednesday's case, the trained rescuers arrived by the whale around noon, near False Bay, South Africa. They were with an organization called the South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN), formed in 2005 by a division of South Africa's Department of the Environment, and a nonprofit called the Dolphin Action and Protection Group. At first the cetacean had enough rope slack to dive and escape the rescuers, but they attached floatation buoys to either end of the whale to keep it at the surface. After that, the volunteers cut one part of the rope and were able to loosen the length of rope. The humpback dove and swam strongly away, free. Rescuers observed that the whale appeared health, as SAWDN said on their website. 

Humpback whales, at about 35,000-40,000 worldwide, are considered endangered and are present as fewer than 10% of their original population. However, nearly 1400 humpbacks feed along the California Coast in the summer and fall, according to the Marine Mammal Center, in Sausalito, Calif

To read about an organization disentangling another whale off Orange County, Florida, in 2012, see here

Follow Catherine at @TreesWhales 

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