More Pacific Whales Tangled in Nets and Fishing Lines

humpback-whale - Pacific whales tangled in nets along West Coast

Fishermen and environmentalists are seeing a huge spike in the number of Pacific whales tangled in nets and fishing lines. (https://twitter.com/Tr0ttr/status/660751297436610560)

Scientists, fishermen and environmentalists have reported a significant increase in the number of Pacific whales tangled in nets and fishing lines that have been spotted along the West Coast of the United States in 2015.

More than 60 whales have been reported along the west coast of the United States, which represents a 420 percent spike over the normal number of entangled whales spotted each year.  Some whale watchers suggest this may just be the tip of iceberg … they believe many more tangled whales have not been seen.

When whales have ropes stuck in their mouths or wrapped tightly around their fins or tail, most of them will eventually die. Volunteer rescue teams from Sea World and other rescue groups are only able to save a small percentage of the whales, despite their best efforts and the use of tracking. Most of the whales swim out to sea and no one ever knows what happens to them.

Scientists suspect that the El Nino that has been building in the Pacific this past summer and fall could be to blame.  The warm water may have forced the whales to move closer to shore in search of prey.  As a result, they move into close proximity with crab fishermen.

Most of the tangled whales have been humpbacks, but other types of entangled whales have also been spotted, including at least one blue whale which they were unable to save.

In an effort to resolve the problem, state and federal agencies and environmental groups are working with crab fishermen to see if they can come up with a solution that will protect the whales without disrupting the $100 million crabbing industry.  While the whales have sometimes been spotted dragging gill nets and lobster gear behind them, crab pots have created the most common problem.

One solution may be to attach GPS technology to the crab pots so they can track them.  This would make it easier to locate the Pacific whales tangled in nets and fishing lines.  In a recent training at Half Moon Bay in California, 100 crabbers were taught how to photograph the tangled whales, call in their location to a hotline and then “babysit” the whales until a rescue can be attempted.

Crabbers are also working with scientists to experiment with different types of ropes and gear, including a newly designed “sinking” rope that would reduce the slack in the rope and make it less likely that the whales could get tangled.

Sources:

theguardian.com

ABC7 news, Los Angeles affiliate

http://www.stltoday.com/news/national/reports-of-entangled-whales-soar-along-california-s-coast/article_43ea5739-775f-5d0f-af77-e4ea7a287e5e.html


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