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Successful release of entangled gray whale calf by newly trained Mexican response team

A recent training in San Ignacio Lagoon, Mexico, has resulted in the professional and successful release of an entangled gray whale calf by a newly trained team at the San Ignacio Lagoon. 

The Government of Mexico and the IWC have worked closely together for the past two years, building entanglement response capacity to respond to whales entangled in rope and net along their extensive coastline. This has resulted in the release of a number of whales, especially humpback and gray.  The San Ignacio Lagoon is a World Heritage Site, part of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve and one of the first areas to protect cetaceans – the North Pacific gray whales that breed here. 

In January this year, an IWC workshop was conducted specifically for participants from San Ignacio and Ojo de Liebre Lagoons (click here for a summary of the training).  Two of the IWC’s entangled whale expert group (Mattila and Lyman), conducted the training.

Less than two months later, a San Ignacio whale watch guide reported an entangled gray whale calf, trailing rope and several small buoys.  Newly trained members of a research team were already on the water and able to respond quickly with the new disentanglement kit which was stowed onboard their boat after the January workshop. 

Using the tools and techniques which they had learned during the January training, the team worked safely and systematically to release the entanglement.  A line and additional buoys were attached to a line trailing from the calf.  Over several dives, these buoys tired the whale, keeping him at the surface long enough for responders to grab the trailing lines and pull their boat up alongside.  It was then possible to assess the entanglement around the whale.  A line went through the calf’s mouth and wrapped around one of its flippers.  A custom, pole-mounted knife enabled the team to reach the whale from the safety of the boat.  Two cuts were made to release the gear and finally free the whale.  The mother of the calf stayed calmly nearby throughout the operation. 

The team was also able to take photo-identification pictures of the mother and calf, in hopes of monitoring the pair’s recovery from the ordeal. Please send information about any photo-confirmed re-sightings of either the mother or calf to Sergio Martinez, Yellowwhale@hotmail.com"

The team for this rescue was Tabata Olavarrieta Garcia, Diana López Arzate, Ludovic Tenorio Hale and Sergio Martinez Aguilar.  All of whom are part of the marine mammal research programme at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, directed by Dr. Jorge Urbán Ramírez.  They conducted this rescue under the authorization of PROFEPA.  Support for the training was provided by the Natural Resource Defense Council, through a contribution to the IWC.