Hapless humpback whale is freed twice in two days

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An Eyemouth fisherman had a whale of a time when he got up close and personal with a 40-foot humpback last week.

Stuart Skene was aboard prawn trawler The Boy Andrew just off St Abbs Head on Tuesday when he came face to face with a huge humpback whale.

He said: “It was tangled in a creel line, but we didn’t realise it was there at first, we only saw the ball floating.

“We went to try and get the ball, as you do, and it was only when we got alongside it that we saw the whale.

“It was about the same size as our boat! I’ve never seen anything like that so close before.”

Mr Skene and his crew worked hard to free the massive mammal from its bounds.

“It must have picked up the creel line somewhere between Burnmouth and Berwick, and broke some of the nets when it swam up the coast,” he explained.

“The rope was tangled around its tail - I wanted to try and get it free if I could.

“We were there about two and a half hours, we got all the rope off that we could reach without going into the water.”

The Boy Andrew crew eventually managed to ‘free Willy’, and the whale was swam off with a length of rope still attached.

However the hapless humpback didn’t get far before finding himself caught in creel lines again, less than 24 hours later.

The Skywatch Civil Air Patrol had been asked to keep an eye out for the animal, and two light aircraft were sent up to search.

Early on Wednesday morning the coastguard received a call that the whale had been spotted caught up again in a line from a lobster pot, this time off the coast of Dunbar, about a mile-and-a-half from the shore.

An operation to free the mammal was organised by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), and the Dunbar RNLI all-weather lifeboat was called out to help.

The lifeboat was launched at around 1.30pm – initially to stand by and provide safety cover to the marine rescue divers.

Rescuers identified which line was coming from the whale and used six bouys to mark it.

However, the whale, in some distress, had begun to thrash around in the water and kept plunging beneath the surface as it was still caught in the line from the creels.

To help keep it near the surface, the lifeboat crew and divers gathered a number of fenders from the lifeboat, the marine rescue boat and a nearby fishing boat, lashing them together with a length of rope to create a large, improvised floatation device.

The divers managed to secure the float around the whale and attached a line from the whale to the dive boat. They were then able to cut through the creel line, which had been ensnaring the anchored animal.

“It was about the same size as our boat. I’ve never seen anything like that so close before”

Stuart Skene

Once free from its predicament with the creels, the whale raced off through the water, with the six bouys streaming behind it.

But the line wasn’t the only thing attached to the animal - it was still fastened by a rope to the dive boat!

As the whale swam for freedom, the boat was dragged along backwards behind it.

Ali Jack, national organiser for BDMLR Scotland, said: “We managed to cut the line and at first the whale took off with the six buoys attached to it. It was like a scene from Jaws if you can imagine.”

The lifeboat followed the whale – and the boat - at a speed of around 7 Knots, until the crew were able to get close enough to cut the line connected to the dive boat, before cutting the rope that was still holding the make-shift float of fenders to the whale.

“We chased him for a bit in the lobster boat and cut the line with the buoys away,” Mr Jack said.

Finally, the whale was free. It had sustained some injuries during attempts to escape, but nothing too serious.

“There were some wounds on the body as you could expect after the struggle,” Mr Jack said. “It might be a bit sore for a while but there was nothing we would consider as life-threatening.”

He added: “This rescue could not have taken place without the help of RNLI Dunbar, we simply could not have done it without them.”

The final twist in the tale came when, after being dragged through the water backwards, the engine of the marine divers’ boat became flooded, and they required a lift back to shore. Luckily the lifeboat was already on hand to tow the stricken boat back to safety.

RNLI Dunbar Coxswain Gary Fairbairn admitted it had been a very unusual call-out for lifeboat crew. “The whale was in a terrible tangle and really needed help, so we were pleased to be able to work closely with the divers to improvise as best we could in the difficult situation,” he said.

“Thankfully, there was a successful outcome for all concerned.”