Search for young southern right whale entangled in rope near Portland

UPDATE: Sunday 7pm: The entangled whale off the coast near Portland has been freed. 

A disentanglement team from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) freed the young southern right whale just after 5pm on Sunday afternoon. 

Incident controller Peter Scott said crews were on the water for about four hours working to free the whale.

“We were able to attach an additional line with large buoys to the entanglement. This was undertaken, to slow the whale down and keep it on the surface while the entanglement was removed,” Mr Scott said. 

The whale, which was first spotted near Bridgewater on Thursday afternoon, had been entangled in rope with two buoys attached. 

“DELWP has been monitoring the whale since the initial report, and once conditions were favourable, commenced the disentanglement process,” Mr Scott said.

“This involved a process known as kegging, that saw personnel attach an additional line with larger buoys to tire the whale out. 

“The kegging process started around 2pm and over the next three hours, a total of five buoys were placed on the line. 

“The on-water team were then able to get close enough to cut the entanglement from the whale. 

“The process was swift - only one cut was required to remove the entanglement. 

A young southern right whale entangled in rope at Cape Bridgewater. Picture: Scott Martin.

A young southern right whale entangled in rope at Cape Bridgewater. Picture: Scott Martin.

“The on-water crew and an aircraft then remained with the whale, monitoring its movement and looking for any signs of injury or distress. 

“It appears the whale sustained superficial wounds.”

Mr Scott said crews had worked tirelessly, battling swell and poor weather to free the whale. 

“DELWP would like to thank the public for their assistance with photos, video footage and providing us with updates on the location of the whale over the last four days,” he said.

“We are pleased with this positive outcome.” 

Members of the public can report whales that appear injured or in distress to the Whale and Dolphin Hotline on 1300 136 017. 

UPDATE: Sunday 4.20pm: A rescue mission is under way to remove rope entangling a southern right whale near Portland.

Crews led by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) are now working to free the young whale, which has a rope with two buoys attached predominantly around its tail.

Incident controller Peter Scott said a method known as “kegging” would be used, but the mission was relying on favourable weather conditions.

“This method helps make the whale tired and less reactive, which in turn makes it safer and easier for personnel to get closer and start the disentanglement process,” he said.

“To date, smaller vessels have been able to approach the whale and attach an additional line with larger buoys, in a bid to slow the whale down. 

“Specialised equipment can then be used to cut the rope from the whale. These implements are specially designed to ensure the whale is not injured during the process. 

“We want to free the whale as quickly as possible, however, sea and weather conditions need to be favourable to ensure a response that is safe for our staff and considers the whale’s welfare, too.”

Mr Scott said that while the response was under way, the whale may not be freed on Sunday. 

“As such, it may be seen with the entanglement plus additional buoys tomorrow,” he said. 

“When we are unable to be on the water, the whale will be monitored from the shore, and aerial monitoring will occur when weather conditions are suitable.”

Members of the public are being asked not to approach the whale for their own safety and to avoid any extra stress on the whale.

UPDATE: Sunday, 12.20pm: The entangled southern right whale has been spotted offshore near Tyrendarra on Sunday morning.

Incident controller Peter Scott said a plane was launched at 8.30am on Sunday to re-start the search for the young whale, which is entangled in rope.

About 9.30am the whale was observed near a pod of three other whales about 500 metres offshore near Tyrendarra.

Mr Scott said ground observers had been re-deployed to the area to continue monitoring the whale from the shore.

Specialist wildlife officers are assessing swell and weather conditions to determine how to best try to free the whale.

Update Saturday 5pm 

The rescue mission for the young southern right whale has been postponed.

High waves, strong winds and a dangerous swell has forced crews to abandon the mission. 

An incident management team was activated early Saturday afternoon.

Incident Controller Darren Shiel deteriorating weather conditions and fading daylight presented safety risks for staff.

He said DELWP would continue monitoring the situation, as well as swells and weather conditions, to determine when the team could get back onto the water.

“A plane is on standby and may resume operations in the morning if weather conditions are favourable,” he said.

You can watch some of the mission, shot by Peter Corbett from Powerhouse Productions in Portland, below. 

Anyone who sees the whale in the morning is asked to call the Whale and Dolphin Hotline on 1300 136 017.

Update Saturday 3.30pm 

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) has confirmed that crews have re-activated an emergency incident to free the entangled whale. 

The sub-adult Southern Right Whale, which was first spotted off Bridgewater on Thursday afternoon, has been identified in waters between Bridgewater and Portland.

Incident Controller Darren Shiell said operational staff and an incident management team had been activated after a member of the public reported seeing the entangled whale off the coast early Saturday afternoon. 

“Following the report, wildlife officers attended the scene to confirm the sighting,” Mr Shiell said.

“The whale, which is entangled in rope with two buoys attached, is heading east from Bridgewater towards Portland.

“Vessels are preparing to depart from Portland, while a plane is en-route to monitor the whale’s location and safety of all involved.”

Mr Shiell said the team’s plans remained unchanged – to free the whale as quickly as possible.

“However, the task is complicated and requires many safety and welfare considerations for both our staff and the whale,” he said.

“Updates to the community will continue as the incident unfolds. We urge members of the public to stay clear of the whale, for their own safety and to minimise additional stress on the whale.”

Update Saturday 2.30pm 

The entangled southern right whale that eluded rescuers on Friday has been spotted at Yellow Rock near Portland. 

Portland Tourism Association president Dennis Carr, who has been following the incident, said the whale was spotted about 2pm.

“I’ve been told a rescue crew is about to launch from Portland and make an attempt to free the whale,” he said. 

“Yellow Rock is a fair way from the harbour and there is a little bit of a swell which will make things quite dangerous, but I’m assuming they think it will be a quick-ish operation because they’re racing against the light again.” 

The weather has been wet and wild in Portland, with strong winds and 36.6mm of rainfall recorded since 9am Friday. 

Update Friday 3.15pm

The search for the young southern right whale has been postponed due to inclement weather. 

DELWP Incident Controller Peter Scott said a plane deployed on Friday morning surveyed waters between Nelson and Warrnambool, spotting 18 whales between the two locations, however none showed signs of entanglement.

“Increasing wind and rain as the day has progressed has forced us to postpone the search for the whale,” he said.

“Operations have ceased for today, due to significantly deteriorated weather conditions impacting visibility and posing safety risks to our staff”

Mr Scott said aerial and sea operations may resume once weather conditions improve.

“We will have operational staff and an Incident Management Team on standby from now and into the weekend, ready to respond if the whale is spotted,” he said.

“We urge members of the public who see any signs of the entangled whale, or the rope and buoys, to call the Whale and Dolphin Hotline on 1300 136 017.”

“This will ensure we can deploy our staff and resume operations as quickly as possible.”

Mr Scott said members of the public were urged to stay clear of the whale, for their own safety and for the mammal’s welfare.

Earlier Friday 1.30pm 

A young southern right whale found tangled in rope near Portland on Thursday afternoon could not be located on Friday morning.

The sub-adult southern right whale was seen at Cape Bridgewater by local cafe owner Scott Martin, who was walking along Great South West walk about 11am.

Mr Martin contacted the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and officers were called to the scene. 

DELWP regional agency commander David Mifsud confirmed on Thursday that a whale was entangled in rope with two buoys attached.

Portland Tourism Association president Dennis Carr, who was at the bay at the time of the incident, said DELWP officers entered the water about 5pm. 

“There seemed to be a couple of hold ups before they got into the water,” he said. 

“They ended up getting in but it got dark about an hour later so their attempts to (rescue the whale) were called off because it was unsafe to continue in the dark.” 

Mr Carr, who runs Seaview Lodge Bed and Breakfast, said he returned to the bay in the morning and the whale was gone. 

“There’s people absolutely everywhere here today,” he said. 

“Not just DWELP people but anyone whose got something to do with whales.

“They’re not really stressed out, everyone is just waiting to see what happens.” 

Mr Carr said the weather had been “magnificent” in Cape Bridgewater for most of the day, but had started to turn sour. 

“It’s starting to rain so the visibility isn’t great and there’s a four metre swell, which means the rescuers can’t get to certain spots of the water,” he said. 

DELWP have set up an incident control centre in Heywood. 

DELWP was unable to provide information when approached by The Standard