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11 Dec 2023


Crossing borders to address large whale entanglement:
bi-national workshop in Puerto Williams, Chile

The first large whale entanglement response workshop in the southernmost city of Chile has successfully concluded.  Puerto Williams hosted the event which taught safe and effective disentanglement techniques, as well as strengthening links with Argentinian responders.

35 trainees participated in the two-day workshop.  The diverse group included members of the Chilean Navy, Agricultural Service, and National Forestry Corporation as well as researchers from academic institutions, tour operators, and representatives from water sports and fishing organisations.

The sessions featured a range of response techniques developed specifically for disentangling whales.  Participants were trained in the effective use of tools and techniques which were then practiced through simulated exercises conducted both on land and at sea.   As ever, the overarching emphasis throughout these exercises was on ensuring human safety.  There are very real risks involved in responding to an entangled whale. Teams must work to disentangle rope, net and other bindings from large and often distressed animals whilst at sea and also managing a boat, the ocean swell and weather conditions. These risks are minimised with clear, well-practised safety protocols and informed decision-making.  

Some components of the workshop were tailored specifically to the Puerto Williams region and the main local fishing industry of king crabs. The crab traps can provoke defensive or aggressive behaviour in large whales which is an increasing concern. Specific advice to manage this behaviour was provided by a member of the IWC Expert Panel on Entanglement Response and South African Whale Disentanglement Network.

The workshop has provided Puerto Williams with the expertise and specialised equipment to respond safely and effectively to large whale entanglements. It has also strengthened links with other response teams along the coastline, including Ushuaia in Argentina, reflecting the need to work across geographical boundaries and with other countries along the migration routes of the humpback and right whales found in these waters.

The workshop was supported by the Chilean Whale Disentanglement Network operated by the Fisheries and Aquaculture Service of Chile (SERNAPESCA) and the Chilean Navy, as well as the IWC’s Entanglement Response Network and Conservation Management Plan for the Southern Right Whale. Support. The Water Sports Club of Puerto Williams (CEDENA) provided logistic support.