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Extending the global whale entanglement response network -
IWC training for Tonga and Vanuatu


The latest IWC entanglement response network training concluded successfully on July 30.  The two day event was the first in the South Pacific Island countries, whose waters are the primary breeding ground for many Oceania humpbacks during their Austral winter. 

The IWC-led training was sponsored by SPREP (Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme) and Worldwide Animal Protection, with additional support from NOAA (USA), and IFAW. Attendees included representatives from local Fisheries and Environmental Agencies, along with NGOs and boat operators nominated by SPREP. 

This training took on a new sense of urgency when an entangled whale was spotted as nominees gathered at the start of the workshop.  Windy conditions prevented immediate action but the team is now trained and hoping for a sighting, and an opportunity to put the new skills to use, when the weather calms down. 

The training began in the classroom, and sessions covered the local and global context, legal issues, tools, techniques and safety protocols.  Led by David Mattila of IWC/NOAA, the group also discussed the ultimate goal of preventing entanglements from occurring in the first place.

On the second day, two small boats were deployed with one used as a 'whale,' towing rope and debris to simulate entanglement, and the other to conduct the 'rescue,' putting the theories into practice.  The rescue boat contained one instructor and two trainees at a time, and ten participants were able to test out the techniques on the water.  The remainder observed from the 'whale' boat.

The ten trainees were evaluated by the trainer and the majority deemed appropriate for lead roles in entanglement response teams.  Thanks to the WAP funds, the IWC trainer was able to leave the custom tool kit used during the training, as well as other essential equipment (buoys, rope, helmets and other safety gear).  The complete tool kit will be kept on Vava’u, as this is where most whale watching is centred and most entangled whales have been reported. 

This training has helped the countries of Tonga and Vanuatu take another step forward in the stewardship of South Pacific humpback whales. 

Mike Donoghue of SPREP said after the workshop:

"SPREP is delighted to work with the IWC.  The issue of entanglement of whales in rope and netting is of growing concern in the region, and the training was extremely timely. Regrettably, this workshop developed unanticipated urgency, as an entangled whale was spotted the day before training began. At least we now have a cadre of trained and confident responders with purpose-built gear to disentangle any whale that arrives in Tonga trailing debris. SPREP is very grateful to the IWC and its supporters for this initiative."

The next IWC entanglement response training will take place in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

For photographs of the Tonga training, and other entanglement workshops, click here