May 14, 2014: WET successfully disentangled a humpback whale!
A humpback whale entangled in crab fishing gear and struggling to swim was spotted by a whale watch boat in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary around noon on Sunday, April 27. What followed over the next two-and-one-half weeks was an extraordinary rescue effort by trained responders of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program along the Central California Coast.
April 27 – Montery Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The initial call of a 25-foot humpback whale entangled in fishing gear came at approximately 12:00 p.m. from the whale-watching vessel Pt. Sur Clipper. The animal was reported as moving very slowly trailing line and a buoy. The whale was reported as stressed and breathing frequently at the surface. Two other whale-watching boats stayed with the whale until responders were able to arrive on the scene.
April 28 – Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The team had hoped the removal of the most inhibiting part of the entanglement — the pot and line — would be sufficient to allow the rest of the entangling line to simply slip off now that the dragging gear was released and the whale could swim more freely.
April 29 - Point Pinos
The satellite fixes from the tag indicated the entanglement had not slipped off, but the whale was swimming more freely — so much so that it had moved off shore south of Point Pinos and beyond the range of the responders’ small boats.
May 1 - Point Sur
The whale is still swimming pretty far off the coast in a rugged area just south of Point Sur. There were no places for the response boats to launch between Monterey and Morro Bay.
The whale moves a bit closer to shore and is nearing Morro Bay. The WET team decides to attempt a response. Justin Viezbicke, the NOAA West Coast Stranding Coordinator, arranges assistance from California Department of Fish and Wildlife and their vessel. However, strong winds and steep seas put the response on hold.
WET and NOAA responders meet early in the am to prepare for response on board the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s 62 foot research vessel Shearwater. However, the whale moves farther off shore and the winds pick up, so the response is postponed, waiting for a better weather window and whale less than 50 nm from the put-in point.
The whale starts to move into the Santa Barbara Channel. Gale force winds predicted for the next several days. Nothing can be done.
Immediate needs for WET:
• GPS/Argos telemetry package with buoy
May 1, 2014: Multiple entangled whales in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
The Whale Entanglement Team responded to the first humpback whale on April 27, 2014 and attached a telemetry buoy. The next day we were able to relocate the whale and remove the crab pot plus 300 yards of line. As the team attempted to cut the final lines wrapped around the peduncle, the ocean conditions changed dramatically. There were 25 knot winds and 8 to 10 foot swells. We had to cease operations for the safety of the responders and the whale. The great thing is the telemetry buoy has enabled us to track the movements of this whale. It is doing great as it has steadily moved south down the coast towards Morro Bay. The information gathered from the telemetry buoy track indicates it is feeding as it travels down the coast. Right now, there are gale force winds in Morro Bay. As soon as the weather clears and the whale remains closer to shore, the WET responders will head down to finish disentangling the whale and retrieve the telemetry buoy.
On May 1, 2014, a second humpback whale was spotted entangled in crab pot gear in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Marine Life Studies research team spotted it late in the day during their surveys studying whales and dolphins. The whale was 17 miles offshore from Moss Landing and the research team stood by the whale, documenting its behavior and taking photos of the entanglement. However, it was late in the day and there was no time to get another telemetry buoy onsite. The closest telemetry buoy was already on the first humpback. This is disheartening to the team as the entanglement is life-threatening. Two WET boats searched for this whale for two days. Additionaly, the USCG Auxillary completed a flyover, and we asked local whale watch and fishing charters and private boaters to be on the look out for this whale. Unfortunately, there has not been a re-sight of this whale and without a telemetry buoy attached to this second humpback whale, the chances of this animal being re-sighted are very slim. Without removing the entanglement this whale will not survive.
California WET (Whale Entanglement Team) is an all-volunteer team of trained professionals under the direction of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Office of Protected Resources. WET is tasked with responding to whales entangled in fishing gear and marine debris. These highly trained and experienced teams include marine biologists, veterinarians, mariners, and other volunteers coordinating with several governmental agencies including NMFS, NOAA Enforcement, US Coast Guard, and state agencies under the authority of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHRSP).
Entangled Whale Hotline:
(877) SOS-WHALE (767-9425)
Ocean users play an important role in efforts to save whales in distress from pain, deformity, and death. Please report injured, entangled, and ship-struck whale concerns to the 24/7 WET hotline at (877) SOS-WHALE (767-9425) or hail the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF CH-16.
Prompt reporting is the best way to help the distressed animal. Standing by until responders can arrive is vital. Standing by is so important to keep track of the animal. It is a big ocean out there and without someone standing by to help direct responders the chances of saving that whale is greatly reduced. If not able to standby, it is so valuable to get the exact location (latitude and longitude if possible), direction of travel, and description of gear (color of buoys, etc.). If possible take photos and/or video of the animal but please do not approach to animal - stay at least 150 to 200 yards away.
Actress and activist Amber Valletta joins the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in Monterey, California, September 26 – 28, 2012 to raise awareness of entangled whales in California. Marine Life Studies and Fluke Foundation were instrumental in formalizing the Whale Entanglement Team known as WET to disentangle whales from marine debris and fishing gear. The PSA by IFAW will air throughout California.
New Public Service Announcement by IFAW: CLICK HERE TO VIEW
News Anchor Cheryl Jennings of ABC 7/KGO TV joined the Whale Entanglement Team in November 2010. Watch the Video.
We are distributing the Response and Reporting Card to boaters. If interested in a water-proof card for your boat, please contact us.
Marine Life Studies coordinated a hands-on water training for WET in December.
Cheryl McCormick, Executive Director of the American Cetacean Society (ACS), joined us.
The article about WET is now available on page 5.