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Location: Hougham Park, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Species: Humpback whale
Category: Carcass removal/disposal
A young humpback whale beached itself, but rescuers were initially able to rescue the whale by refloating it on Sunday, August 19, 2001. Unfortunately, a couple days later, the whale beached itself again and subsequently died during another rescue attempt. Officials towed the carcass out to sea, attached explosives, and blew it up on Tuesday, August 21, 2001.
Beached whale returned to sea
PORT ELIZABETH — It was a day of relief yesterday as rescue workers turned the tables on the beached whale tragedy near Van Staden’s River Mouth a fortnight ago to rescue a second humpback whale, which had beached itself on the shores of Hougham Park near Coega.
In a rescue effort spanning the greater part of six hours and witnessed by several hundred people, members of the National Sea Rescue Institute, Metro Services, Surf Rescue and Bayworld combined to ”drag” the beached humpback from the coastline and return it to deeper waters.
The whale was first spotted about 50m from the shore by beachgoers Gavin Watchurst and Sonja Scheepers.
”A group of us had decided to take a slow drive up the beach, when Sonja said that she spotted a whale lying just off the shore. This was at about 11am.” Watchurst said.
”We immediately contacted Bayworld and the National Sea Rescue Institute, who arrived on the scene soon afterwards.”
Bayworld spokesman Sandy Thackeray said: ”We arrived at Hougham Park as soon as possible, as we are required to supervise all rescue efforts of this nature.”
”The whale appeared to be the same species as the one near Van Staden’s River Mouth, but was much stronger. I would estimate it was about 8m in length and, while sexually developed, was not fully-grown.”
The rescue plan involved ”dragging” the whale from the shallow water by means of a powerful pilot boat, donated by Portnet. A rope was tied to the whale’s tail, and then connected to the boat, which was lying 50m off shore.
Once the NSRI team had managed to secure the rope to the tail, members of the Surf Rescue squad swam out to connect the rope from the boat to that attached to the whale.
In the meantime, a bulldozer was brought to the area in order to build a sandbank, which would collect the water (thereby keeping it wet) and prevent the whale from being pushed further towards the beach in the growing surf.
Although the whale did exhibit patches of blood on its fins and side, Thackeray said these were on account of it rolling on the sharp rocks near the shore line.
Eventually, amid cheers from the crowds on the beach, the whale was pulled away from the shore and into the surf.
Stranded humpback dies
PORT ELIZABETH — The young humpback whale saved in a rescue at Hougham Park at the weekend died after it beached itself again yesterday.
In a sad finale, its carcass was dragged out to sea and blown up by explosives experts.
The teenage male, about 10m in length, appeared to be swimming strongly after 40 rescuers and an NSRI vessel succeeded in moving it into deeper water on Sunday.
But by Monday afternoon it had been seen again moving west towards the harbour here.
Yesterday, Bayworld’s stranding network was tipped off that it was circling monotonously and moving into shallow water off the North End dolosse and railway line.
In consultation with the NSRI and the marine and coastal management department (MCMD), the plan was to guide it into deeper water.
Racing to get there, they found it had already stranded on rocks in shallow surf.
When journalists arrived, they were met by the sight of the creature, its black flank scarred with white scratches and a triangle of blood below its dorsal fin, being buffeted helplessly by the waves.
Besides an occasional flip of the tail, it hardly seemed to be alive at all.
Fishermen said that, after circling, the whale had suddenly swum straight towards the shore.
With a group of curious Spoornet staff and fishermen looking on, stranding network co-ordinator Wendy Kant, NSRI chief Ian Gray and MCMD regional head Eugene Coetzee debated the best action.
With the possibility that the animal could still live and the converse possibility that it could die on the rocks causing a health hazard, it was decided to tow it out to sea.
While it was still being dragged out, the whale died. This was verified by the crew of a monitoring vessel travelling next to it.
Bayworld spokesperson Sandy Thackeray said last night that because the carcass would have floated it could have been hazardous to passing vessels. “It was, therefore, necessary to use explosives to break the body into smaller pieces.”
Six whales have stranded on the coast here in the past two months.
Worryingly, all have been offshore species. Inshore species more commonly strand.
Last Monday another humpback had to be euthanased after it stranded near Van Staden’s River mouth.
Kant, who is in contact with stranding networks all over the world, attended an international conference in Australia last year and the Bayworld stranding team has grown steadily in confidence and expertise.
A skin biopsy was taken to determine its parentage and where it fitted into the humpback pods known to frequent these shores.