“How to Save a Whale” is an essential resource on the risks of collision and entanglement. It was made possible by the Sitka Foundation.

With the fortunate increase in the number of Humpback Whales off our coast, it is essential that boaters know more about the risks of collision and entanglement (for the sake of whale AND boater safety).

Our preliminary results, conducted in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), show that ~ 50% of Humpbacks in British Columbia have scarring that shows they have been entangled (>1,000 Humpbacks). This data provides an indication of how very serious the risk of entanglement is. It does not reveal how many Humpbacks have died as a result of entanglement.

Summary of key points on what to do in case you find an entangled whale:

  1. With great urgency, report the entanglement with location. In British Columbia call the DFO Incident Line at  1-800-465-4336. If you do not have cell service, use VHF Channel 16 (Coast Guard). For entanglements in Washington State, call SOS WHALe (1-877-767-9425).  For entanglements in other ares of Canada, see phone numbers at the end of this page. 
  2. If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished.
  3. Take whatever video/photos are possible to document the entanglement and to identify the whale as an individual but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale (minimum of 100 metres). 

Why it is so important NOT to attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale:

  1. It risks human and whale safety (has led to human death). Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success.
  2.  Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If members of the public put themselves at risk and remove gear at the surface, they would not help the whale because now it is more difficult to:
    – Recognize that the whale is entangled; and
    – Disentangle the whale even if it is relocated.
    Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

For Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations and key points on how to avoid collision, please see our page www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org. 

Further resources:

NOAA (American resource) – August 12, 2022, Let Qualified Experts Respond to Entangled Whales! When well-intentioned members of the public take matters into their own hands to try and save a whale, they put themselves and the animals in grave danger.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada – Keeping whales free from fishing gear

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