WATCH: dolphin snagged in fishing gear freed by friendly diver
The recent video posting of divers attempting to disentangle a wild dolphin in Hawaii (footage above) reminds me of the many conversations I have had over the years with people about how dangerous entanglements are to marine animals.
It always surprises them when I explain how little material it takes to create a life threatening situation, in this case, it was a dolphin. However it could just as easily have been a sea turtle, a bird, or even the largest of whales.
I have seen firsthand these effects too many times.
Early in my career in Florida one of the first necropsies (an animal autopsy) I ever participated in was of a manatee that died from a mass of balled up monofilament line that had become lodged in its intestine.
A few ounces of line had resulted in the death of an animal that weighed several hundred pounds.
I have seen this sort of man-made tragedy on larger scales as well during rescue responses when large whales such as humpbacks and right whales become caught in gear that can result in life threatening entanglements.
These entanglements can make it difficult or impossible for the whale to feed, hinder the whale’s mobility, or allow infection to set in as the entanglement persists for months or even years before the whale either is lucky enough to shed the gear on its own, or is sighted, reported, and responded to by a trained response team.
Without either of those it is likely that the whale will succumb to its entanglement.
Again a relatively small amount of material can result in the death of an animal that is exponentially larger.
And it is very difficult to be in the right place at the right time to assist an entangled marine animal.
Compound all this by the inherent dangers of this work; trying to free a struggling marine animal from a life threatening entanglement. Despite the specialized training responders receive and the specialized tools that have been designed, many times freeing an animal may simply come down to sheer luck.
Luck that someone spots the animal and reports it, luck that the person can stay with the animal until responders can arrive, and luck that the weather will stay calm enough for a safe response to be mounted.
There is a way for everyone to help though.
We can all help take the need for luck out of the equation by making sure we are not the causes of debris getting into the water in the first place.
Help take need for luck out of the equation and collect debris the next time you are near the water.
For more information about our Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team, visit their team page.