The amazing response teams that work on whale entanglements are true heroes! Their rescue stories, freeing whales caught up in fishing gear, are super inspirational! But what can we do to help make their jobs easier? Let’s take a look at a few Dos and Don’ts.
Entanglement is a Big Problem
The thought of an entangled whale is enough to make any whale lover’s heart sink. That a beautiful animal who should be roaming free in the world’s ocean, is caught up and injured in our debris, is heartbreaking. And the sad news is that these incidents have been increasing since the 2010s, with discarded fishing gear now the biggest cause of whale deaths. Annually, 300,000 whales get caught up by fishing gear worldwide. It can take 6 months for a whale to die from entanglement – a truly horrific end for a noble animal.
That’s why teams and organisations involved in the rescue of entangled whales are huge heroes of mine! Battling a huge, very distressed animal, difficult weather conditions and a mass of tangled up line, they take on the challenge to release the animal, and fix the mess that their fellow humans have created! Their courage and dedication is truly inspirational, and their stories help us believe that we can do better! But it also begs the question – what do I need to do if I see or hear of a entangled whale? For many whale lovers, their first instinct is to dive into the water, head first, knife out and primed. But… that’s not actually the wisest thing to do. Let’s take a look at some Dos and Don’ts we should all apply.
Don’t – Get in the Water
This is probably the most important thing everyone should know! Never ever get in the water with an entangled whale. I’m sure everyone has the best of intentions, and desperately wants to help. However, an entangled whale will be in a lot of pain and distress, and may not react well to being approached by someone in the water. The last thing anyone wants is an injury or death caused by an entangled whale. Even trained whale rescue professionals always attempt disentanglement from a boat – and never with a person in the water. The best thing to do is to keep everyone safe – and out of the water.
Don’t – Attempt a Rescue Yourself
Leave it to the professionals! Everyone’s first instinct may be to reach for the knife and cut the rope away! However, it takes real training to be able to assess the situation, understand where the rope needs to be cut, and then be able to maneuver the cutting tool into the right position, without causing more stress to the animal. An untrained rescue attempt may cause the animal more harm – you may unintentionally pull in the ropes so that it bites even deeper, or cut the rope in the wrong place, making it harder to get into the right position. Whales also can get very stressed by well intended but amateur rescue attempts, and may just dive down or bolt off, making it impossible for the professionals to approach.
Do – Call For Help
Here’s the absolutely most important thing you can do if you observe an entangled whale – call for help! You should contact the nearest whale disentanglement organisation, or the coastguard. Stay at a safe distance (at least 100 metres), and assess and report the situation – the information you provide can help experts pull together the best rescue plan. Things to note are the species, size and condition of the whale, what it is entangled in, and where. If possible, you should keep track of the direction and speed of the whale, by maintaining a parallel course at a safe distance (at least 100 metres) until the experts arrive on the scene. Also, providing GPS coordinates, photos or even drone footage would be a huge benefit to the responders!
Do – Support Disentanglement
Whale rescue is complex and dangerous! Only specially trained individuals are authorised under local law to attempt to disentangle a whale. They are usually volunteers who train with a disentanglement organisation, such as RABEN in Mexico, Marine Life Rescue in the UK, or the Large Whale Entanglement Response Network in the US. Supporting these organisations would help ensure that resources are in place if and when a whale needs to be rescued. Volunteering time, donating funds, or even just spreading knowledge and awareness – it all helps! Ultimately, it is human actions that causes whale entanglement – we need to step up and rescue them from our own mistakes!