NOAA releases review following 2018 whale entanglement uptick

Courtesy NOAA Fisheries. MMHSRP Permit #18876-03

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Entanglements with fishing gear and other objects in the ocean can pose life threatening risks to whales and dangerous situations for the trained responders called upon to disentangle them.

In a recently released report, NOAA Fisheries outlines the trends behind an uptick in large whale entanglements in 2018.

Nationwide, there were 105 confirmed large whale entanglements. in Alaska, 10 large whale entanglements were confirmed, mostly in Southeast Alaska, but with one each in Prince William Sound, Kodiak, and Unalaska. Nine of the animals were humpbacks, while one entanglement was an unidentified whale.

Although the number of entanglements in Alaska was also an uptick in 2018, NOAA Fisheries leaders say the number fell within the amount of annual variability.

"It did have us reexamine our numbers in Alaska to determine if that was concerning, but we did find that it was within our anticipated averages," Sadie Wright, Alaska Region Large Whale Entanglement Coordinator said.

Wright says that of the 10 entanglements in 2018, two were considered life threatening and required a disentanglement team to be employed.

In Unalaska, a humpback was entangled in a line attached to a cod pot. In Sarkar Cove on Prince of Wales Island, a humpback became entangled in a mooring line.

"We find there's precedent for whales becoming entangled in novel, nor new lines that were recently placed in the water. A whale might know an area, it's foraging in that area and someone puts out a new anchor line or some new fishing gear and the next day that whale becomes entangled in that gear because it wasn't expecting it to be there," Wright said. "We also see entanglements in gear that's been there for a long time can occur with younger whales. So maybe the whale hasn't been in that cove before, which is probably the case with the Sarkar Cove whale that got entangled in that mooring line that had been there for years."

Only highly trained and authorized individuals should attempt to disentangle whales caught in lines, but Wright says anyone who comes across an entangled whale can help in other ways.

"Photographic and video evidence from the public or large whale entanglements is very valuable information," Wright said. "Even if the animal is able to free itself or we're able to rescue that animal or not, that information, those photos, the evidence of the entanglement really helps us to better understand how to develop outreach materials or other conservation measures to reduce the risk of future entanglement,"

Anyone who sees an entangle whale is asked to call NOAA Fisheries entanglement hotline at 1-877-925-7773, or contact the Coast Guard on VHF CH-16.

For those interested in becoming more involved, NOAA Fisheries offers Level 1 whale entanglement fire responder training online.You can find more information by clicking here.

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