Whale Entanglement is a global issue which is intensifying each year. Annually, around 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed when they are unintentionally caught in fishing nets and gear.1 An early count done in December of 2018 reported 45 entrapments off the West Coast, 35 of them along California's coast. Unfortunately, the majority of these incidents are suspected to go undocumented, meaning the statistics do not fully portray and urgency of this issue. Accurately documenting these incidents, however, has increased significantly over the past few years, which helps provide information which then leads to the brainstorm and eventually the implementation of policies and legislation. 2 However, there are very few guidelines for commercial fishing and policies are not nearly as strong as needed to be effective.
When a whale is caught, more often than not, it suffers from injuries, infections, and the inability to eat, which leads to prolonged suffering, followed by death. Luckily, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has an army of veterinarians, U.S. Coast Guards, biologists, and whale watchers who are always on the lookout for entanglements and can contact responders. These responders are intensively trained to alleviate the problem and work to free the whales. Though they are experts, whales can be dangerous, especially when injured, and many responders have been injured or killed on the job. Untrained individuals are strongly advised not to make any attempt to free a whale, rather, to call the Large Whale Entanglement Response program.
Fortunately, fishermen are increasingly becoming aware of the threat they pose to the species and actively working to adjust their procedures to prevent entanglement. A few of these adjustments involve fully understanding how their gear works and what causes these entanglements specific to the nets they use. Some have begun to connect buoys and lines differently to limit the number of knots tied leaving larger gaps for whales to swim through. There is also talk of utilizing a newly invented hollow sleeve around the lines which allow whales to break them if they are trapped. 3
Although the situation is becoming more transparent, there is not near enough light shone on how devastating this massive tragedy is. One process underway is the filming and releasing of a powerful documentary which delves deeper into the issue as many leaders of conservation organizations work together to solve the problem through legislation.