Articles from the Administrator's website
- Free Willie
Freeing Willie the Humpback Whale
an amazing Tristan rescue success from Conrad Glass
On Tuesday 29th November factory manager Erik McKenzie spotted a whale with a buoy and net caught around its tail about 200 metres off Calshot Harbour. Erik alerted Sean Burns who contacted Conrad Glass to assemble a Search and Rescue crew. Conrad was joined by Neil Swain, and Conrad's son Leon who left the harbour at 12.15 to investigate, carrying with them a boat hook and knife to attempt to free the whale. Sean Burns went along as photographer.
Conrad takes up the story:
We were directed towards the whale by Eric from on top of the cliff via VHF radio. Sean kept radio contact; Leon stood by with knife in hand; while Neil stood in the bows holding on to the painter (bow rope) with one hand, the boat hook ready in the other.
Suddenly Neil pointed with the boat hook and shouted "Thar she blows": 20 meters in front of the RIB, the whale surfaced, pulling a fishing buoy with a short stick attached. The buoy was about six meters behind the whale. I increased speed to catch the whale and steered the boat along side of it. The whale was a humpback, about eight meters long and about two meters wide.
We made several approaches, trying to get as close as possible to identify the amount and type of fishing line (were any hooks attached?) and gauge how close we could get to the whale, which was very stressed. Each time we approached, the whale would dive deeply, taking the buoy so far under the water with what appeared to be hardly any effort indeed, going so deep that we could not see it. Both Neil and I were rather cautious in how we were going to attempt any rescue when we saw the size and actions of the whale.
The whale would remain under for about five minutes before re-surfacing again. As soon as we approached, it would dive deeply again. "This is not giving us much time to hook onto the line and cut it" I said. "I don't see how we can cut the line if the whale keeps diving". Neil said: "Guys: we have to do something to help". Sean said the concern was apparent in his voice.
Neil added: "If we can get the buoy cut off the rest of the line, it may work fee itself". Leon pointed out: "It's the buoy that's keeping the line taunt, as the whale swims or dives, the line keeps the tension on the line".
I looked at Neil and Leon: "Right! lets do it; when the whale surfaces this time I will get close to it then let the RIB's momentum carry us close. Hopefully it will not force it to dive". We waited for a few moments: "There it is" said Leon, pointing to the whale that had just surfaced 10 meters on our port side.
I quickly turned the RIB, cutting back to get behind the whale, then turning to allow the RIB to coast forward. Neil hooked onto the buoy with the boat hook, and quickly lifted it into the RIB with a mass of tangled line. "Now cut the line quickly" I said to Leon, who was standing on the port bow, but had to move to starboard bow to get at the fishing line.
"Watch out for the fish hooks" Neil told Leon, as he frantically sawed at the line. First Leon cut the buoy loose, then Neil pulled another handful of tangled fishing line with a large hook attached and cut this. Neil said to Leon: " I think the single bit will come free" and "hold the line taunt" Leon responded as Neil pulled more slack into the boat to be cut off.
During this time I nudged the RIB closer behind the whale until we were about two meters from its tail. The strange thing is the whale seemed to sense that we were helping it, for the creature remained hardly moving. As Neil let go of the last bit of line, the whale dived deeply, swimming out to sea. Sean got some photos of this.
Neil said that he could not see any other tangled line about its tail, so any single bits should work free. We identified the buoy, line and hook to be from a Japanese or Taiwanese long-line fishing vessel. Some of these lines are about sixty miles long. No doubt the whale got caught in one of the broken lines. These vessels fish illegally in the South Atlantic, We turned back to the harbour to clear immigration on the yacht "Setna" which had just arrived and had been told to keep clear of the whale while it had the buoy attached.
I must add that the fishing line and buoy caught on the whale did not belong to Ovenstone Agency Ltd, the fishing company who have the contract to fish for crayfish in Tristan waters. Of all the rescues I have been asked to organise, freeing "Willie the Humpbacked Whale" rates the most unique by far!
Conrad Glass MBE is the author of Rockhopper Copper which relates many real-life stories. Perhaps when the book goes into its third edition this 'Free Willie' story will be included?
About Humpback Whales
The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is a species of baleen whale. Adults range in length from 1216 metres (3952 ft) and weigh approximately 36,000 kilograms (79,000 lb). The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. It is an acrobatic animal, often breachingand slapping the water. Found in oceans and seas around the world, humpback whales typically migrate up to 25,000 kilometres (16,000 mi) each year. Humpbacks feed only in summer, in polar waters, and migrate to tropicalor sub-tropical waters to breed and give birth in the winter. During the winter, humpbacks fast and live off their fat reserves. The species' diet consists mostly of krilland small fish. Due to over-hunting, its population fell by an estimated 90% before a whaling moratorium was introduced in 1966. Stocks have since partially recovered; however, entanglement in fishing gear, collisions with ships, and noise pollution also remain concerns. There are at least 80,000 humpback whales worldwide.
Yacht Setna's Visit
Tina Glass reports that on Tuesday 29th November the yacht Setna arrived at 11.00 en route from Uruguay to Cape Town for a short Tristan visit. So Tristan then had two yachts anchored off shore. 'Setna' means the goddess of the Eskimos. The crew consists of one German and two Austrian.
Further Report from Erik McKenzie on SV Setna
SV Setna arrived here unexpectedly and had to be guided carefully by radio to her anchorage as she was sailing right into the centre of the whale "drama" (see Conservation News Page). It is a family named Kreutz from Germany/Austria - Hans, Anneliese and son Daniel en route to Cape Town (Hout Bay) from South America.
They were told not to bother going to Tristan by a friend, as he has sailed past here 5 times over the years and could never get close due to bad weather. They decided to run north from their course down close to the roaring forties to see if they would have better luck. As it happens they arrived in beautiful, flat conditions and were able to spend a couple of hours ashore.
They did a quick a factory tour and we had just finished processing cooked lobster so they were in luck there as well - loved the fresh lobster. After that we were able to get them around the island and show them a little bit of what the settlement and patches, Bluff etc look like. They spent the night on anchor and then left in good weather at around 10.00 on 30th November. If only all the passing yachts had such luck.
Chief Islander Ian Lavarello's 2011 Visit to South Africa and Europe
Ian travelled from Tristan aboard SA Agulhas in early October, followed by a training course in Johannesburg, South Africa.
We publish below reports and pictures of Ian's UK trip which concluded with attendance at the UK Overseas Territories Consultative Council's Conference on 23rd - 24th November .
Report on the UK Overseas Territories Consultative Council's Conference from Chris Bates. A full report on Ian's UK visit will appear in the February Tristan Newsletter
On the day before the conference, the Minister for Overseas Territories holds a series of meetings known as "bilaterals" with territory leaders. Ian had been asked by the Minister, Henry Bellingham MP, for a note of Tristan's priorities and he used this to make him aware of concerns by the fishery concessionaires, Ovenstone Agencies (PTY) Ltd about the pace of accreditation of the product from Tristan and punitive tariffs encountered in trying to export to China.
Ian explained to Mr Bellingham complexities and apparent inconsistencies between what the Chinese authorities would accept without tariffs and what they would not and the beneficial effect on Tristan's economy if these difficulties could be overcome. The Minister undertook to try to "unblock" the situation. He went through in detail Ian's points that a new harbour to replace the existing structure would be better for the island and for the British taxpayer*; he discussed in detail concerns about the condition of the Camogli Hospital and progress on education improvements, tourism development and conservation.
Later at a reception organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Ian was able to elaborate on these issues with MPs and members of the House of Lords. It was clear there is great interest among them in Tristan and continuing concern over the effects of the wreck of the bulk carrier Oliva on wildlife and the economy.
One of the points Mr Bellingham was able to make when he opened the Conference was that there was now proof that the Government saw the Overseas Territories as assets to be proud of and not liabilities. He was able to list progress such as the signing of the agreement to build the airport on St Helena; to invest in the rebuilding of the Turks & Caicos Islands' government structures; in ensuring the wishes of the Falkland Islanders to remain British were not compromised and that the dispute between the Ministry of Defence and the Ascension Government over payments had been resolved.
Mr Bellingham said he was impressed by the way other government departments were happy to co-operate and engage with Overseas Territories; Ian was able to list the challenges facing Tristan and was in turn praised for setting up the training co-operation with the Isle of Man.
Ian was also able to speak on the wish of Tristan people to see more visits from Royal Navy vessels to discourage poaching and his support for secondment of departmental workers around the South Atlantic to create opportunities. He warned this needed someone to take charge and there were budget implications. He suggested the airport on St Helena could benefit all the South Atlantic if a new shipping service linking St Helena to Tristan was developed for upmarket tourists and islanders, as well as freight and essential supplies. He welcomed the opportunity for Tristan workers to be employed on the construction of the airport.
The first day's session was concluded by t he Foreign Secretary, Rt. Hon. William Hague MP, when Ian was able to tell him: "It's an honour and a privilege to be able to thank you for all the FCO has done to help the island - its finances and in every other way". For this, he was warmly thanked by the Foreign Secretary and by Mr Bellingham.
..... ends .....
*Finally, a sensible comment about a replacement for the entirely unsatisfactory Calshot Harbour. This won't happen because people in London care about the Overseas Territories. Bellingham is a nice man and I believe he cares, but to most officials in Whitehall and Parliament, the OTs are a bother, an expense and too often, an embarrassment. A new harbour will be built when DFID's bean counters understand that it will, in the long term, save DFID money. Bob
Upbeat November fishing report as Tristan makes up for slow start to the season. Report from Factory Manager Erik McKenzie on 1st December
What a month! We have been hoping for a spell of fishing that would let us test the factory running at high volumes. I am happy to say that we all made it through the month without major mishap and fishermen, factory staff and processors all pulled their weight to get us through a very busy month. A big thank you for all the food dropped off at my house in the afternoons, meaning I didn't have to cook when I got home at the end of what were mostly very long days. The month started with a fishing day on the 3rd and then ended with one on the 30th. With the days in between we had a total of 13 fishing days. The daily landings dropped off as the month progressed from 5 and 6 tonnes a day to app 3.5 tonnes, but those are certainly not figures to cry about. In all 62 tonnes were landed at a daily average of 4760 kg. In the middle of the month we had an uninterrupted sequence of 7 days with just under 38 tonnes being landed.
Looking back over the previous two seasons it becomes clear that we are well ahead in terms of quota still left in the water. At the end of November 2009 we had only landed 61.9 tonnes on 14 fishing days. Last year we had landed 102 tonnes on 31 days, while this year we have only had 26 days, but are sitting with a landed total of 114.5 tonnes. This is a nice position to be in and we hope it continues. December will be a little disrupted due to operations with both Baltic Trader and Edinburgh - needed to bring further harbour repair equipment and materials, the island Christmas cargo, refilling our holding tanks with diesel and removing all the frozen product from our (nearly) full cold store for shipment to the various customers. This means we will probably not be able to utilise all available fishing days in December, but we are still hoping to land a couple more tonnes before the Island shuts down for the festive season.
Let's hope I have similarly good news for you at the end of December.