British Columbia

Humpback whale entanglement an international problem

Four humpback whales have been found entangled in fishing gear in the last two weeks.

'Sometimes it's the animals curiosity, especially juveniles, that can get them into trouble'

Paul Cottrell, Marine Mammals Coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, rescues an entangled humpback whale in the Powell River area. He says four whales have been found entangled in the last week and a half. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Four humpback whales have been found entangled in fishing gear in the last two weeks, with one near Powell River effectively "hog-tied" and anchored to the ocean floor, says Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"It was amazing how wrapped up it was. The tail had significant wraps, loose rope and ends all over. Then it was actually up, underneath the body, through the mouth three times," said Paul Cottrell, Marine Mammals Coordinator, and lead whale disentangler for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"We think it had been entangled there in the one spot, anchored to the bottom for at least 24 hours. The animal was quite exhausted."

Young whales at greater risk

"Sometimes it's the animals curiosity, especially juveniles, that can get them into trouble," said Cottrell.

He noted a recent case where a young humpback whale approached the float of a longliner and entangled itself while playing with a nearby buoy. 

The animal managed to break free and shed the entangled gear over the next three or four hours.

Cottrell said this happens frequently. 

"A lot of the entanglements we get are juvenile animals. They're curious, but also they're animals that tend not to be familiar with the gear, and they'll get caught up."

International problem

"It's really an international issue in terms of these large whale entanglements," said Cottrell, who noted that much of the retrieved gear comes from countries such as the United States and even as far as Asia.

He said there is a specialized and international group of 15 whale disentanglers who keep in close contact to monitor the status of freed whales.

If anyone out on the water sees an entangled animal on the water, they are urged to call the Observe, Record and Report phone line at 1-800-465-4336.

"Give us a call. We want to know about it.

"The quicker we know about any entanglement and we can get out there, the higher the likelihood of success." 

To hear the full interview with Paul Cottrell, listen to the audio labelled: Whale Entanglement.


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