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Whale Entanglement - Building a Global Response

Entanglement is a growing problem in terms of conservation, welfare and human safety.  The full extent is hard to assess as most entanglements are never observed, but research suggests that over 300,000 whales and dolphins die annually due to entanglement in fishing gear, and others are also trapped in marine debris.  This can have a devastating, long-term conservation impact on those populations which are already threatened, in some cases critically.

Entanglement is also a serious welfare issue.  It can lead to drowning as trapped animals cannot reach the surface to breathe, to laceration and infection as heavy ropes bite through skin, and to starvation as animals towing heavy fishing gear cannot feed effectively. 

Human safety is another very important concern. Handling any large, wild animal can be dangerous. Responding to one at sea, and that is likely to be injured and distressed, requires training and calm, careful implementation of safety protocols, minimising risk to the response team and conducting the most effective disentanglement possible, whatever the scenario.    

In response to these growing concerns, the IWC launched a Global Whale Entanglement Response Network in 2011.  The immediate aim of the programme was to build safe and effective entanglement response capability around the world.  The long-term goal is to prevent entanglements from happening in the first place.

A Technical Advisor was appointed to lead and co-ordinate the programme, supported by an Expert Panel drawn from countries already operating national entanglement response teams.  Together, this group of experts developed global Best Practice Guidelines and devised a two day training package.  The training is designed to take participants from classroom work on data collection, the law and species relevant to their region, to practical use of disentanglement tools on the water. 

The IWC Technical Advisor conducted the first training workshop in March 2012.  Since then the training has been delivered on five continents, reaching over 1000 scientists, conservationists and government representatives from more than  30 countries.  A ‘train the trainer’ apprenticeship programme has also been developed and led to the creation of six additional trainers, including native Spanish speakers. 

As well as equipping regions, countries and coastlines with the skills to build their own entanglement response capability, every participant is taught the importance of data gathering.  It is only through a concerted, international effort that enough data can be obtained to gain a more precise understanding of where, how and why entanglements happen, and this information is vital to achieve the long term goal of preventing entanglements happening in the first place.

The Global Whale Entanglement Response Programme has shown the importance and potential impact of international and inter-governmental collaboration, and it has become a blueprint for two new IWC initiatives focusing on bycatch and stranding.

Additional Resources

Click here for a short booklet about the IWC Entanglement Response Network.

Click here for more information about members of the IWC Whale Entanglement Response Network.  

Click here to watch a short video clip from a recent entanglement workshop.

Click here for an image gallery on whale entanglement.

Click here to watch a short film about entanglement response
Click here to watch a short film about the establishment of the Mexican Entanglement Response team, who were trained by the IWC Network.
Click here to read an article on disentanglement by one of the IWC Entanglement Response Network members.
Below are links to reports of three IWC workshops on entanglement:

Click here to read a report of an IWC workshop on marine debris