Marine Wildlife Response

One of MERS' primary goals is to directly reduce threats to marine wildlife by responding to reports of entanglement in fishing gear, vessel strikes, and other human-caused incidents. We are also working to increase reporting of incidents of these threats through promotion of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada incident reporting line: 1 800 465 4336

Entanglement in fishing gear

Entanglement in fishing gear is a threat to many of the marine mammal and seabird species off the coast of BC. This threat is becoming increasingly serious for species like humpback whales, whose population is expanding off the west coast of Canada. As they return to coastal areas where their population was depleted by commercial whaling, these humpback whales are experiencing increasing overlap with human activities, including fisheries. Entanglement in fishing gear can lead to injury or death for marine species, and can lead to loss of gear and catch for fishermen.

MERS has assisted with the rescue of several humpback whales since 2009. We also aim to monitor whales during fishing openings, to increase the number of safe and effective responses to entanglements. See our blog post on the rescue of humpback whale "Cutter" if you are interested in learning more about one of these successful disentanglements. We have also responded to reports of entangled seals and seabirds.

Entangled humpback whale
Humpback whale "Cutter" entangled in fishing gear
Entangled seal
A harbour seal fatally entangled in fishing gear
Humpback whale with entanglement scars
"Ripple" (BCX1063), an adult female humpback whale with scars from a previous entanglement. Note the indentations on the left side of her upper jaw, and on her blowhole

Vessel strikes

Vessel strikes are also known to affect various species of marine mammals around the world, including the humpback, fin, and minke whales that MERS studies. MERS responds to reports of vessel strikes, assesses and documents any whales that are struck by boats, and monitors the health of these individuals over time. Some of the humpback whales that have been known to MERS for many years have been the victims of vessel strikes; "Slash" (BCY0177) is an adult female whale that MERS has known since 2001, who still bears the scars from the boat propeller that struck her in 2006. And "KC" (BCY0291) is an 11-year old whale that we have known since the year he was born, who was struck by a boat in 2013. We are also raising awareness of how to reduce the risk of collisions between humpback whales and vessels (see our education page for more details). Through our efforts to respond to and document the whales that are hit by boats, we are learning more about where, when, and how often these incidents occur, as well as the long-term effects on whales that survive vessel strikes.

Humpback whale Slash with vessel strike scars
Humpback whale "Slash" (BCY0177) with
vessel strike scars
KC with vessel strike scars
The injuries on the dorsal fin of humpback whale "KC" (BCY0291) are from a boat propeller
Minke whale with vessel scars
Minke whale "Ripple" with scars on her flank from a vessel strike

Marine wildlife rescue

As an organization with a history of responding to several threats imposed on marine wildlife such as entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes MERS often receives reports of or come across other wildlife in distress. These range from marine mammals in or near areas of toxic spills to seabirds that are unwell due to natural or unknown causes. We handle these situations on a case by case basis and have on several occasions collaborated with other organizations such as the BC Marine Mammal Response Network, the Vancouver Aquarium or the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society to perform safe and effective rescue and provide short or long term care for the animals.

Baby harbour seal
Rescue of a harbour seal pup
Killer whale swimming through diesel
A northern resident killer whale swimming through a diesel slick
Humpbacks feeding in front of a fishing boat
Humpback whales feeding next to a fishing boat