1 July 2015
While international surfing stars rode the waves at the Billabong Pro in Ballito, on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast, a dramatic rescue played out beyond the break today.
A humpback whale became entangled in the shark nets off the coast of the seaside town and was freed by members of the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.
The drama was captured on camera by photographer Barry Bowditch. The lensman had been photographing surfers at the contest when he noticed a commotion beyond the break.
“I was down at the beach shooting the Billabong Pro and I noticed the Sharks Board boats out there, so I started focusing on them. I only had a 400mm lens so I couldn’t really tell what was going on at first, then I noticed them cutting the nets and hauling them into the boat,” he said.
“From what I saw the whale was docile. It was lying between the two boats and went berserk as it was released. That’s where all the spray comes from.”
Sharks Board chief executive Mike Anderson-Reid said the saga of the whale began on 29 June when it was spotted near the nets at Salt Rock, north of Ballito. “On Monday, with the assistance of the lifesavers, we tried to herd the whale away from the nets. We noticed it had a serious skin infection and it wasn’t very receptive to being moved away. We thought it might strand overnight.
“The gear [shark nets] was serviced and at about 11:00 on Tuesday I got a call to say the whale was in the nets. We responded and it was the same animal,” he said.
“We carried out a normal disentanglement of the whale, which was between 7m and 8m long. It gave us a bit of a wake-up call now and then. When we did the final cut on the tail, the big splash came and it moved offshore.”