Written by Tessa Danelesko

As the days get longer and the temperature rises, many folks are revving their engines and hoisting their sails, marking the arrival of boating season. It’s an exciting time of year, and getting out on the water is one of the best ways to explore British Columbia’s beautiful coast. Before you wander into the waves though, take a moment to reflect on how you can minimize your impact on marine wildlife.

With increased activity on the water, especially fishing, crabbing and prawning,  comes increased risk of entanglement events. Surprisingly, entanglement occurs more often than you may think: in some parts of the world, one out of every two humpback whales show signs of becoming entangled (Johnson, Salvador, Kenney, Robbins, Kraus, Landry & Clapham, 2005). Although that figure may seem daunting, there are ways you can help prevent and respond to entanglement.

An ever-present threat

Entanglement is a serious threat facing many marine animals today. Cetaceans and sea turtles can become entangled in fishing gear and other materials that end up in marine environments. These events can cause injury or death to the affected animal, many of which are considered species at risk.

Entanglement can happen anywhere along B.C.’s coastline, and can involve fishing gear such as gillnets, crab traps, pots, and long lines, as well as marine debris. The most commonly reported entangled cetacean is the humpback – but many other species are affected. 50-80 entanglements are reported each year to the BC Marine Mammal Response Network, but many more go unnoticed or unreported.

Entanglement in the spotlight

You may have recently heard about a young humpback whale that was caught in a fish farmnet near Tofino, B.C. Researchers are still trying to figure out if the whale passed away and floated into the net or if the net became wrapped around the humpback causing it to drown. The event has raised many questions, as concerned scientists search for evidence of how the whale died. The majority of the focus since the event occurred, however, has been on how we can prevent a similar event from happening in the future.

Help prevent entanglement

There are simple actions you can take to help prevent entanglement:

–  Avoid abandoning or leaving fishing gear unattended
–  Prevent man-made materials and debris from entering the ocean
–  Avoid fishing in areas where marine mammals or sea turtles are actively feeding
–  Do not set or haul gear when marine mammals or sea turtles are present
–  Keep your distance from marine mammals and sea turtles by at least 100 metres

If you come across an entangled animal, there are some very important steps you can take to help, but remember: protect yourself first. Entangled animals are often stressed and may act erratically. Disentanglement efforts involve highly specialized techniques and can be dangerous to execute. By law, only trained and authorized personnel may attempt to disentangle a marine animal. For the safety of the entangled animal and yourself, do not attempt a disentanglement yourself. Such actions can result in serious injury or death.

If you see an entangled animal:

–  Report your sighting immediately to the Marine Mammal Response Network by calling 1-800-465-4336 or notify radio channel 16
–  Do not approach or try to disentangle the animals yourself
–  To greatly increase the chance of successful disentanglement, standby the animal and observe from a safe distance (at least 100m) until trained officers arrive.

You can learn more about the entanglement research happening in B.C. through the Marine Education and Research Society here.

Vancouver Aquarium

Entangling line on a young humpback whale that died near White Rock, BC in June of 2012

Vancouver Aquarium

The entanglement on this animal impeded it's ability to feed and the animals eventually starved.

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