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California Whale Rescue

A network of trained individuals and organizations working together to save entangled whales and prevent future entanglements in the state of California.

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Overview

With reports of entangled whales dramatically increasing in recent years, California Whale Rescue was founded to organize, unify, and advance the entangled whale response network in California, with a focus on best practices, prevention, and safety. California Whale Rescue also works to increase awareness of the issue of whale entanglement and thereby lead to increased reporting of entanglements. Lastly, California Whale Rescue works with stakeholders to reduce the number of future entanglements through education, training, and gear modifications.

Threats

Entanglement (also known as bycatch) is a global problem that results in the death of over 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises each year. Entanglement can result when an animal comes in contact with any loose material—from monofilament fishing line, to gill nets and trap gear, or even everyday trash. Whales off the California coast most often become entangled in the steel-enforced line attached to trap gear (crab pots and spot prawn traps, amongst others). A line wrapped around a whale’s body can quickly cinch tightly, cutting into the skin as the whale moves and the weight of a trap creates tension. Without intervention, this can result in an inability to (effectively) swim, dive, and feed; severe pain; and disfigurement, limb amputation, and ultimately, death.

Reports of entangled whales off the California coast have increased from an average of five per year ten years ago, to over thirty unique reports (61 total reports) in 2015. There have already been 35 confirmed reports in 2016 (through May). The increase in reports is attributed to both positive and negative inputs. A larger global human population has resulted in an increase in seafood consumption and therefore fishing effort. And after decades of protections, some whale populations have increased. The intersection of migrating whales and fishing gear creates the opportunity for entanglement. An increase in awareness in certain areas has also resulted in more people knowing how to properly report entangled whales, meaning more entangled whales have the opportunity to be saved.

Sadly, it’s still estimated that for every one reported entanglement, ten entangled whales go unseen. This is one of the reasons why California Whale Rescue continues to raise awareness, and why prevention efforts are crucial to ensuring a safer future for whales and other marine life.

How We Are Helping

California Whale Rescue coordinates and organizes entanglement response efforts under National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Permit #18786) and International Whaling Commission (IWC) protocols. Our volunteers have over 70 years combined first-hand experience in whale disentanglement and research. Our training and response efforts include standardizing practices and gear, communications, and training amongst regions, teams, and individuals, placing strong emphasis on human safety and animal wellbeing.

Response is only part of the mission, however. California Whale Rescue’s main long-term goal is to work toward prevention of future entanglements. We aim to use what we learn on responses, including written, photographic, and video documentation, biopsy samples, behavioral analysis, and consultation with experts in the field, to better inform these preventative efforts.

As California Whale Rescue continues to grow and progress, we aim to increase the number of trained response teams up and down the coast of California. We will also continue our work to educate mariners, fishermen, and the public on the issue of entanglement, and to participate in prevention and mitigation committees and efforts. Ultimately, we aim to create a safer environment for whales and other marine life.

Oceanic Society proudly serves as the non-profit fiscal sponsor of California Whale Rescue.

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