In 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 17 entangled whales off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California, and other countries from U.S. commercial fishing gear.
CALIFORNIA一 A sunny day out on the water, a slight chop to the wave, and a clear view of Catalina across the horizon. A boater thinks they see something bobbing in the waves but they can’t quite determine if it is just a white cap or a piece of trash that accidentally dumped into the ocean. They get a little closer out of curiosity, and the idea of pulling out the trash before a marine animal can ingest it or become entangled in the piece of mankind that doesn’t belong in the ocean. It is too late; the piece of fishing gear has been tangled with a humpback whale that was on its way up the coast during its migration.
In its 2020 West Coast Whale Entanglement Summary, NOAA reported that there were 13 confirmed reports of whales entangled in some type of fishing gear off the California coast. But there are more than just whales living off the coast that have found themselves entangled in garbage, fishing lines, crab gear, and whatever else is in the ocean.
The NOAA West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network was established in the early 1980s under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and has been working towards lowering the number of confirmed entanglements and assessing the best sustainability practices for fisheries moving The group is composed of cooperating scientific investigators, institutions, volunteer networks, and individuals up and down the coast.
Boaters can also play their part in identifying an animal in trouble and reporting it to the proper channels that will hopefully be able to help the animal out and lead to a happy ending for our trapped ocean friends.
Going back to the boater who spotted an entangled whale, they should start by taking photos of the animal, noting location, time, and the animal’s condition before reaching out to either the Coast Guard through CH16 or calling one of the NOAA hotlines to report it.
“The first thing to do would be to call our hotlines and report. We have a network of 15 organizations that are permitted by NOAA to conduct rescue and responses,” said Justin Greenman, California assistant stranding coordinator. “… They monitor those phones 24/7 and they have folks who are able to come out and respond.”
Once they call one of the numbers, they will be asked to describe the situation while being as detailed as possible.
What is not recommended is attempting to help the animal on their own, instead, boaters should keep a distance and monitor the situation until help arrives.
“It could make things worse,” said Greenman. “Entangled animals are frightened, especially newly entangled animals they can be very erratic in their behavior… In addition, you don’t know what that animal is entangled in, you could potentially entangle yourself. Keep a distance, monitor the situation, and allow the vets and people who are trained and permitted to take these things on.”
Once the team arrives, they can successfully assess the situation, determine the best way to untangle the animal, assess its medical needs – if it is a smaller animal like a turtle or sea lion, they can take it in for rehabilitation – and hopefully find the best solution to help.
After that the boater can continue on their way, knowing they took the correct steps to assist the animal in need.
Reporting these incidents helps NOAA to report and log the incidents to assess how fisheries are doing to lower entanglements and assess other methods to avoid these incidents in the future.
For more information see the NOAA web page for the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at https://bit.ly/3zLg1Qt.
Numbers to contact if you spot a stranded marine animal
Coast Guard: CH16
West Coast Region Stranding Hotline: 1(866) 767-6114
Entanglement Reporting Hotline: 1 (877) 767-9425
The Marine Mammal Center: (415) 289-7325
Counties served: Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo
Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute: (805) 567-1505
Counties served: Santa Barbara and Ventura
Marine Mammal Care Center Los Angeles: (310) 548-5677
Rehabilitation in Los Angeles County
Pacific Marine Mammal Center: (800) 541-7325
Counties served: Orange County
SeaWorld of California: (800) 541-7325
Counties served: San Diego