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The daring rescue that freed a trapped humpback whale

An STV News crew captured the dramatic rescue of the trapped humpback whale off the coast of East Lothian.

Whale: The animal was caught on the prawn trawler.

A whale which couldn’t stop itself getting into trouble; a dramatic rescue where things went wrong not once but twice; a narrow escape for the men and women who were trying to save the animal; a first for Europe and a happy ending…all caught on film by an STV News crew.

The rescue of a humpback whale off the East Lothian coast on November 16 saw a remarkable combination of events.

It appears that the 40 foot long animal first became entangled in a fleet of lobster pots off Eyemouth, then dragged the creels north to the sea off St Abbs, where it was spotted by the prawn trawler “Boy Andrew.”

The crew tried to free the whale but it swam north, trailing a rope and the lobster pots behind it. The humpback was clearly in distress. The British Divers Marine Rescue Unit headed to Dunbar with a whale disentanglement kit – the only one of its kind in Europe.

The next day, volunteers from the Sky Watch organisation flew over the coast looking for the whale. Minutes after their search was called off, the whale was spotted – just off Dunbar. Backed up by the Dunbar RNLI and local fishing boats, the divers headed out for an operation that was not without risks.

The 40 ton whale was swimming in circles, apparently anchored to the seabed by the weight of two more fleets of lobster pots. It had repeated its misfortune of the previous day.

Plan A was for the divers to attach buoys to the rope attached to the whale. One of the buoys could be tracked by satellite. The theory was that the buoys would tire the whale out, allowing the divers to get alongside and cut off the ropes. They reckoned it would take a day or so for the whale to become sufficiently exhausted.

But the satellite buoy was on the blink. And it was starting to get dark.

Plan B got underway. One of the fishing boats hauled up the rope attached to the whale. The divers tied six floatation buoys to the rope. The idea was that the whale would be left where it was overnight. A safe rescue would be carried out the next morning.

But the whale had tangled the rope round the fishing boat. A diver got into the water to cut the rope. That freed the whale from the lobster pots and it raced off, dragging the six buoys behind it, along with the divers and their inflatable raft. They narrowly avoided being swamped.

Plan C. The divers cut themselves and the buoys free. In the dying light, one of the team leaned from the bow of the Dunbar lifeboat, using a knife attached to a long pole, and cut the last rope off the whale, which disappeared into the North Sea.

Clinging on to the Dunbar fishing boat Scorpion as it was rocked back and forth by the swell, STV cameraman Colin McLean captured most of the action.

At the time of writing, nothing more has been heard of the whale – but no news is good news.

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