A Mariner’s Guide to

Reporting Whale Entanglements

in Western Canada

It is illegal-and very dangerous-to try to disentangle a cetacean yourself.  If you encounter  an entangled cetacaen, your main goal is to properly document and report the incident, while ensuring the safety of both you and the animal.  Fisheries and Oceans Canada is responsible for assisting marine mammals and sea turtles in distress.  If you observe a sick, injured, distressed, or entangled marine mammal in B.C. waters, please contact the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network Incident Reporting Hotline immediately.

1.800.465.4336 or VHF Channel 16

The Mariner’s Guide to Reporting Whale Entanglements in Western Canada is now available for download!

The purpose of this guide is to provide a resource for mariners to follow if they should ever encounter an entangled whale.  The information it provides will help vessel crew members to properly report, document, and help assess entangled whales to support authorized trained responders.   

British Columbia’s coastal waters are a place of astounding beauty and diversity. Not only are our waters well-known for its abundance of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), but they also offer west coast mariners a place to work and play. As the habitats of these cetaceans increasingly overlap with human activities, so do the safety concerns for a number of these at-risk cetacean species.

On April 8, 2018, the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network convened a Whale Entanglement Workshop aimed to educate mariners about proper reporting and documentation of entangled whales.  Held at the Coast Bastion Hotel in Nanaimo, British Columbia, workshop attendees included researchers, NGOs, ecotourism operators, fishers, and professional mariners – those perceived most likely to encounter an entangled whale.  Marine mammal experts and disentanglement professionals from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, SR3, the Marine Education and Research Society, the Porpoise Conservation Society, and the Center for Coastal Studies provided expertise on the issue of entanglement and the role of coastal mariners.  The workshop aimed to encourage collaboration and communication within B.C.’s marine community to ensure a timely response to entanglement incidents leading to a swift and effective rescue, gather more information about the extent of the issue, and gain further understanding of the type of gear involved in order to help prevent future entanglements.

Entanglement refers to the wrapping of lines, netting, or other materials of anthropogenic origin around the body of an animal.  An entangled whale is at significant risk of injury and even death due to tissue damage and infection, starvation from impaired foraging and swimming ability, decreased reproductive success, or drowning.  In B.C., the vast and largely unpopulated coastline means that many entanglements likely go undetected or unreported, and therefore understanding the scope of the issue is difficult.  In 2017, 23 confirmed whale entanglements were reported to the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network Incident Reporting Hotline – 22 of those reports being humpback whales.  This is the largest number of whale entanglements in a single year to date.  Due to the remote nature of most of B.C.’s coast, mounting a quick response can be difficult; however, where a swift and appropriate response is initiated, there has been success.

The purpose of this guide is to provide a resource for mariners to follow if they should ever encounter an entangled whale.  The information it provides will help vessel crew members to properly report, document, and help assess entangled whales to support authorized trained responders.