By focusing on prevention, we can help stem the growing instances of whale entanglements

An whale entangled with fishing gear seen on its tail.Recently we’ve seen an increase in reports of humpback whale rescues due to entanglement in commercial fishing nets and lines.  Unfortunately entanglements are only likely to increase and a recent article serves as a wake-up call as to how big this issue has become.

The growth of coastal development, fishing and other offshore activities means that entanglements with fishing equipment and other marine debris are quickly becoming a major threat to whales and dolphins in our oceans.  

Once captured in a net or snagged on a line, whales, dolphins and other marine animals are often unable to escape and  become stressed, injured or can often  drown.


Their regular breathing and movement may be greatly impeded as a result of rope, line or net becoming wrapped around their pectoral fins, mouth or fluke. Even when an entangled mammal is able to struggle free, parts of the gear can remain attached and hinder normal feeding and swimming activities, and if the line cuts into their body it can cause infections or even deformities.

Humpback and southern right whales are frequent inshore visitors to Australia’s coastal areas, and consequently are more at risk of coming into contact with discarded fishing gear or shark nets.

Disentanglement is a complicated and hazardous procedure that should only be attempted by trained professionals, and is only an emergency measure  NOT the solution to this growing problem.

So what can be done?

We need to focus on prevention of entanglement in the first place and there are a number of technical steps we can take to do this.

For example in the USA IFAW helped lobstermen replace dangerous floating rope between their pots with whale-friendly sinking rope that reduced right whale entanglement.

The programme was a success, with fewer whale caught and fewer lost ropes and traps for fishers, and sinking ropes are now required for all commercial lobstermen working along the US Atlantic coast.

Solutions in Australia will also involve fishers, government and the public working together to raise awareness and reduce discarded gear and marine litter, and to quickly develop and utilise fishing equipment that poses less risk to marine life.

More research needs to be done to understand whale and dolphin interactions with fishing equipment and marine debris to ensure that these magnificent animals can continue to migrate, feed, rest and give birth safely in our waters.

IFAW works tireless both locally in Australia and New Zealand as well as globally to ensure maximum protection of our underwater friends. Stay tuned to further information on how we’ll be working with you on this problem.


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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation