Teaming Up For Entangled Whales

Teaming Up For Entangled Whales


[♪ and rushing water] [♪] Sarah Wilkin: Whales are naturally very curious, and they will explore and interact with most things in their environment. And so, when a whale encounters a human-made substance in their environment- a rope, a net, a line- their tendency is to interact with it, and unfortunately, sometimes that can result in them wrapping themselves up and becoming entangled. The impacts of an entanglement on an individual whale can be very serious. Depending on how the whale is actually entangled, it can impair their ability to successfully find and eat food, their ability to maneuver and swim through the water, and even their ability to reproduce. In the United States, we document approximately 70 entangled large whales per year. This is an underestimate because we really can only document those animals that are observed and that are reported to us. In 2017, the most confirmed entangled large whale was the humpback whale. We also had confirmed entanglements of other species of whales including minke whales, gray whales, blue whales, and North Atlantic Right whales. We worry about entangled whales from first and foremost an animal welfare prospective. The individual animal is suffering and particularly because most entanglements are human caused, we feel it is part of our responsibility to alleviate that suffering. NOAA Fisheries is working closely with the fishing community and many of our other ocean partners in order to try and reduce the likelihood that whales will encounter gear and become entangled. Entanglement response is a very risky endeavor. Trained and experienced responders have been injured and even killed in trying to free entangled whales. “Easy forward. Go!” The national Large Whale Entanglement Response Network was established to effectively and safely respond to reports of entangled whales throughout the United States. The network is overseen and authorized by NOAA Fisheries. We provide the training and authorization for entanglement responders. The most important thing that a member of the public can do, if you come across an entangled whale, is to not attempt to intervene on your own. Instead, they should report it, either to their local hotline for entanglement response, or to the United States Coast Guard on VHF channel 16, which will then relay the message to the appropriate responders. In 2017, our trained network partners were able to respond and successfully disentangle 20 large whales. For certain species and populations, entanglements can actually have a population level impact. For some species, such as the North Atlantic Right whale, populations are so reduced that the loss of even a few individuals can have dire consequences for the recovery of the entire population. Successful entanglement responses resulting in freeing even just a few individuals can help improve recovery. [♪]

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