ENTANGLEMENT IN FISHING GEAR IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM FOR WHALES IN ALASKA. A recent study found that >65% of humpback whales in Southeast Alaska bear the telltale scars of past encounters with nets and lines. In the mildest situations, an animal may pick up some light gear and free itself relatively unscathed. But when animals become seriously entangled, they can die from starvation, infection, or drowning. In fact, fishing gear entanglement is one of the biggest sources of mortality for humpback whales in Alaska. And it is troubling for fisherman as well. Even when the animals free themselves, fishermen may lose their gear and suffer from costly downtime.
Fortunately, something can be done. Alaska Whale Foundation, together with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Coast Guard, is part of the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a group of trained professionals that respond to reports of distressed marine mammals. The group uses specialized tools for cutting away gear, satellite telemetry equipment for tracking entangled animals and a series of well-established protocols for working efficiently and safely under conditions that are stressful for both the animals and the team. For its role in the network, AWF received a national John H. Prescott award and maintains a ready cache of tools and responders at the AWF research center in Warm Springs Bay, Alaska.