29 September 2023

Call to look out for trapped whales following entanglement

| Claire Sams
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Tangled whale

The entangled whale made its way through the waters off the NSW South Coast under the watchful eye of the public. Photo: Kate Rogers.

News of a humpback whale caught in nets off the coast gained attention this week, but the incident was just one of the several that occur each year.

The whale was first reported to the ORRCA Rescue Hotline Team on Monday (25 September), after it was seen about 4.5 km off Depot Beach, north of Batemans Bay.

At 2:50 pm that afternoon, it was seen trailing rope and four white buoys off South Durras.

Secretary of Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) Jessica Fox said the whale in question likely had a long journey.

“The whale was heading in a southeast direction and was spotted again off Eden [on the Far South Coast] but then wasn’t sighted again during the afternoon [on Thursday],” she said.

“We anticipate that the whale is now off the Victorian coastline, so ORRCA has let the Victorians know so they can be on standby.”

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Ms Fox said that being able to free a whale from netting depended on a few factors.

“Hopefully, if a whale is sighted under calm conditions, they’ll be in a condition to attempt disentanglement,” she said.

“It depends on the conditions of the entanglement, and the water conditions on the day.”

Ms Fox said a whale could be caught in a range of materials.

“Every single entanglement is unique,” she said.

“It could be ropes, sometimes it’s chain or netting – or even a combination of materials.

“They can be positioned on and around the whales in various pattens and in different positions.

“Commonly, they’re found with that material wrapped around the tail multiple times, and the whale can’t get it off.”

Despite best efforts, disentanglement was not always possible, she said.

“In some cases, the entanglement could have only just happened,” Ms Fox said.

“But sometimes whales have been carrying entanglements that look like they may have been there for more than a year.

“In those cases, barnacles and other debris can form on the material, and they can be quite cut into the whales, causing deformities.”

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Ms Fox said the NSW South Coast was a popular spot for whale watching, but boaters should also keep an eye out for the animals.

“We ask that any boat users and anyone out on the water keeps a look out over the next couple of months.

“Usually, whales will continue heading south from now until November and it’s not uncommon to see them off the South Coast of NSW.”

Ms Fox said ORRCA operated a 24/7 hotline that people could call when they saw a whale – or other cetaceans – in distress.

“Once we’re informed, we then coordinate a response with other local stakeholders, and work as a point of contact there,” she said.

“We also have over 500 specialist rescue trained members along the coast, who can be deployed to collect observations and assist in any rescues, as well.”

Should you see a whale tangled in netting or otherwise in distress, call ORRCA’s Rescue Hotline on 02 9415 3333.

The public should not approach an entangled whale, and all whales and dolphins are protected in Australian waters.

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