Currently Entangled Whales off the Coast of BC

The following will be updated as information becomes available. Last update: September 11, 2020. 

Whales known to be entangled of the coast of BC:
1. Checkmate – no longer entangled.  DFO got drone footage on September 10th that shows that Checkmate no longer is entangled. The rope that was through Checkmate’s mouth with a trap under the right pectoral fin, has fallen off. 
2. X-Ray – entangled near Campbell River, has not be found
3. Unknown whale #1 on Central Coast, has not been found, photo now available
4. Unknown whale #2  on the Central Coast, has not been found

See this link for our schedule for free webinars on our research and how to reduce threats to whales. 


There are currently 4 Humpback Whales known to be entangled off the coast of British Columbia. They may not be the only ones. These are just the whales who have been seen and reported. Note that it is the law that entanglements must be reported.

With the very fortunate increase in the number of Humpback Whales off our coast, comes this reality that there is a greater overlap between fishing gear and these giants feeding off our coast.

This page is to serve as: 
(1) The go-to for information on currently entangled whales so that there is a greater chance that they may be found so that rescue attempts can be undertaken / resumed;

(2) A resource for media and coastal British  Columbians regarding the severity / frequency of this threat and knowing what to do (and not to do).

(3) Increasing knowledge of why identifying whales as individuals is so important. Not only is it the foundation of all our research, if you want to find a whale in trouble, you need to be able to recognize the whale and know where it most often can be found.

How big a threat is entanglement to Humpbacks?
The preliminary results of our research, conducted in collaboration with DFO, shows that approximately half the Humpbacks off the coast of British Columbia have scarring that shows they have been entangled. This provides an indication of how much the following are needed: boater education, resources for disentanglement, and understanding of how to reduce the threat. But please know, that entangled whales so often escape detection and most dead whales sink.

How you can help:
You can help by being alert for the possibility of entangled whales and educating yourself about what to do with the information we have provided at
www.HowToSaveAWhale.org. This includes insight into how disentanglement are conducted and why it is not only extraordinarily dangerous to attempt disentanglement but were one to do so, you might be dooming the whale by removing the ability to see the the whale is entangled (because what is visible at the surface has been removed) and by removing the ability to attach a geo-tag to the gear so that the whale can be  found and the expertise and equipment can be used to attempt rescue.

Know that the whales are most often not in immediately danger of dying from entanglement. It is the longterm impacts of infection and not being able to feed and/or move properly that will kill them.

The biggest limiting factor in rescuing the whales is finding them back as the realities of the following four whales will make very clear. But know too we can never detect or find back all the entangled whales off our coast. The problem of entanglement must ultimately be dealt with at the source for the sake of the whales, the fishing community re. impacts due to lost gear; and for the sake of fisheries trade with the United States (see end fo the page for the court ruling in that regard). .


Entangled Humpback #1
Checkmate – NO LONGER ENTANGLED 


Checkmate was documented as entangled on July 25th due to the vigilance of a member of the whale watching community around Campbell River. It was immediately called in to the Incident Reporting Line at 1-800-465-4336. Expertise was dispatched to Campbell River with Straitwatch maintaining watch on the whale.

It is known that a member of the public removed rope at the surface. This was a terrible mistake, and also illegal. The gear at the surface would have allowed ease of recognizing this whale as entangled. It would have allowed for a tracking tag to be attached so that the whale could be relocated. And, it would have allowed far better possibility of being able to remove the entangling gear below the surface. The prognosis for Checkmate is very poor. Rope from a trap is through Checkmate’s mouth, trailing over the right pectoral fin. 

Because there is nothing at the surface, it was also not possible to attach a tracking tag to the rope so that Checkmate could be found whereby disentanglement attempts by DFO could continue.

Checkmate was relocated by Straitwatch on the afternoon of August 19th in the Campbell River area and again on the late afternoon August 22nd. DFO got drone footage on September 10th that shows that Checkmate is no longer entangled. So fortuitously, the rope that was through Checkmate’s mouth with a trap under the right pectoral fin, has fallen off. 


Entangled Humpback #2
X-Ray

X-Ray was last seen near Kelsey Bay with an adult whale, Slits on July 26. May no longer be traveling together. DFO has been able to remove some of the entangling gear. Whale needs to be found back  in the hopes of removing the remaining gear. 

Rope from a trap is through X-Ray’s mouth and trailing  under the right pectoral fin. 


Entangled Humpback #3

The photo below was taken on the late afternoon of July 29th near Ashdown Island. This Humpback has netting over its head which is unlikely to be evident at the surface. Colleague Humpback researchers have also reviewed this photo and we do not know this individual. This suggests the whale is more often in an area where we do not get ID photos. The whale has not been relocated since July 29th. It is know that there were multiple interactions between Humpbacks and netting during this seine fishery. These entanglements are of course also a problem for the human fishers striving to make their living. 

It is the law that entanglements must be reported. Exact language from Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations is included below.  Click to enlarge. 


Entangled Humpback #4 

There are currently no photos known to us that would allow confirmation of the identities of this whales. The entanglement was not reported until well after it happened whereby it will be far more challenging to find the whale. If there are no photos to aid the identification of the whales, this further confounds chances of finding them, especially if there is not evidence of entanglement at the surface.


With regard to entanglement of whales impacting the economics of fisheries trade with the USA:

The Marine Mammal Import Provisions Rule, went into effect on January 1st, 2017 (with a 5-year grace period). To comply with this regulation by January 1st, 2022, countries importing seafood into the United States must be able to prove their fisheries monitor and limit marine mammal bycatch with the same standards as U.S. fisheries are required to do under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. 

Ocular and Slash – ambassadors of the realities of risk

Another whale has recently been documented with scarring from entanglement. We’ve identified the whale as Ocular, born in 2016 to Slash (BCY0177). Slash has her nickname because, from the first time we saw her in 2008, she had extreme scarring from a large boat propellor. Ocular’s entanglement scarring was first documented last week.

Ocular and Slash – ambassadors of the realities of the risk to whales of vessel strike and entanglement.

They are not exceptional cases. Our research, done in collaboration with DFO, shows that ~1 in 2 Humpback Whales off BC’s coast have scarring from entanglement. This data provides an indication of how serious the risk of entanglement is but does not reveal how many Humpbacks die after becoming entangled.


How many are hit by boats? We don’t know. We see scarring on some survivors but here too, it is not possible to know how many are hit and die as a result of their injuries. There are whales like KC (BCY0291) that we know have been both hit by a boat and been entangled (twice that we know of in KC’s case).

Thankfully, with the new Marine Mammal Regulations it is now law that such interactions with marine mammals must be reported (all incidents of concern to 1-800-465-4336). But increased public awareness is also very much needed. Please see www.HowToSaveAWhale.org.

Content about what to do if you find an entangled whale is summarized below:

  • With great urgency, report the entanglement with location to the DFO Incident Line / VHF 16. 1-800-465-4336.
  • Do NOT attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale as it risks human and whale safety (has led to human death).
  • If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished
  • Take whatever video/photos are possible but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale.

Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success. Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If well-intentioned members of the public remove the gear at the surface, it is made much more difficult to:
1. recognize that the whale is entangled and;
2. disentangle the whale even if it is relocated.

Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

July 8th documentation of Ocular’s entanglement injury near Comox by Peter Hamilton, Lifeforce Foundation.

How to Save a Whale (video)

“How to Save a Whale” is an essential resource on the risks of collision and entanglement. It was made possible by the Sitka Foundation. Please see below for the video and share widely.

See this link for our free webinars to share our research and increase understanding of reducing threats to whales.

Click here for information on current, known entanglements off the coast of BC.

With the fortunate increase in the number of Humpback Whales off our coast, it is essential that boaters know more about the risks of collision and entanglement (for the sake of whale AND boater safety).

Our preliminary results, conducted in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), show that ~ 50% of Humpbacks in British Columbia have scarring that shows they have been entangled (>1,000 Humpbacks). This data provides an indication of how very serious the risk of entanglement is. It does not reveal how many Humpbacks have died as a result of entanglement.

Summary of key points on what to do in case you find an entangled whale:

  1. With great urgency, report the entanglement with location. In British Columbia call the DFO Incident Line at  1-800-465-4336. If you do not have cell service, use VHF Channel 16 (Coast Guard). For entanglements in Washington State, call SOS WHALe (1-877-767-9425).  
  2. If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished.
  3. Take whatever video/photos are possible to document the entanglement and to identify the whale as an individual but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale (minimum of 100 metres). 

Why it is so important NOT to attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale:

  1. It risks human and whale safety (has led to human death). Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success.
  2.  Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If members of the public put themselves at risk and remove gear at the surface, they would not help the whale because now it is more difficult to:
    – Recognize that the whale is entangled; and
    – Disentangle the whale even if it is relocated.
    Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

For Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations and key points on how to avoid collision, please see our page www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org. 


 

Two Months and Two Humpbacks Entangled at the Same Location – What Can We Learn?

Note, this blog was initially written to answer questions about the two Humpbacks entangled at the same site in 2016 – the Sheep Passage open-net farm site near Klemtu. One whale was freed on September 12th (survival unknown) and one died at the same site on November 15th, 2016. We are striving to update this blog with related information as it becomes available.

UPDATE December 6, 2018: Humpback found in the Cermaq’s Millar Channel farm.  From media provided by CermaqThe cage was empty and did not contain any salmon and the whale was in good health, not entangled and not exhibiting signs of stress”. Plan for release of the whale was coordinated by DFO. ID of the whale is not known to date and it is unknown how the whale entered the nets..

UPDATE July 2018: Amendments to Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations came into force on July 11, 2018.  The amendments include mandatory reporting of any accidental contact between a marine mammal and a vehicle or fishing gear. Click here for the full Regulations.]

UPDATE January 1, 2017: New Regulation went into effect requiring any fishery/aquaculture exports to the U.S. to meet equivalent standards of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for monitoring and bycatch mitigation. There is a 5-year exemption period (to January 10, 2022).

UPDATE November 29, 2016:  Another Humpback Whale has died in open-net fish farm gear. This whale was at the Grieg Seafood’s Atrevida farm in Nootka Sound. This is the 2nd Humpback Whale dead at a fish farm in two weeks and the 3rd that is known to have been entangled in fish farm gear in 2.5 months. See this link for further information.

Updated summary of known Humpback interactions with open net-pen salmon farming netting / cages:

  • December 2, 2018 – Cermaq’s  Millar Channel farm.  Whale reported to be within the farm but not entangled nor injured. Plan for release of the whale was coordinated by DFO. ID of the whale is not known to date and it is unknown how the whale entered the farm.
    Related media: Cermaq, December 4, 2018 “Humpback Whale Freed from Empty Salmon Farm Cage without Incident
  • November 29, 2016 – Grieg Seafood’s Atrevida farm in Nootka Sound. Humpback found dead in nets. Necropsy results unknown. ID of dead whale not known.
    Related media: CTV News; November 29, 2016; “Dead humpback whale found at B.C. salmon farm
  • November 15, 2016 – Marine Harvest’s fallow Sheep Passage open-net farm site near Klemtu. Humpback found entangled and dead. This is the same site as the entanglement of September 12, 2016. ID of whale not known.
    Related media: See end of blog.
  • September 15, 2016 – Marine Harvest’s fallow Sheep Passage open-net farm site near Klemtu. Humpback found entangled and was professionally  disentangled. ID of whale not known. Survival not known.
    Media: See end of blog.
  • March 27, 2013 – Mainstream Canada’s Ross Pass farm. Humpback dead. Necropsy inconclusive if whale was dead before or after becoming entangled in fish farm gear.
    Related media: Times Colonist; March 27, 2013, “Dead humpback whale floats up at salmon farm near Tofino

Initial blog from November 22nd, 2016 

As a result of our research to understand and reduce risk of entanglement for Humpbacks and our efforts to increase awareness about what to do if an entanglement is witnessed, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the latest known Humpback entanglement on BC’s Central Coast. Many of the questions were generated by Marine Harvest’s November 17th, 2016 release “Whale found dead at empty aquaculture site”.

For the sake of efficiency and awareness raising, we’ve strived to answer the questions below and will update this information as we learn more. Our aim is to help ensure that what is learned from entanglements leads to measures that reduce the risk.

Questions: 

1. Was the November 15th entanglement at the same site as the September 12th entanglement?
Marine Harvest has reported that both whales were entangled on the same anchor system at the fallow Sheep Passage open-net farm site near Klemtu.

2. Why was the anchor system not removed?
The latest entanglement is under investigation by Fisheries and Ocean’s Canada (DFO). We are striving to find out if the results will be made public and if the results may inform policy and regulations around open-net fish farm anchor systems.

3. Did the whale entangled at this site on September 12th survive?
The Humpback caught up in the same anchor system on September 12th was disentangled by those with training (disentanglement must be coordinated by DFO and done by those with training, see #9 below). This was a very complex entanglement (see photo and video below) but all gear was successfully removed from the whale. It is not possible however to definitively say that the whale survived the injuries as there have been no documented re-sightings.

4. How did the whale found on November 15th die?
Whales are mammals and therefore need to come to the surface to breathe. They will drown if they are anchored to the bottom because of being trapped in ropes or fishing gear. It is hoped that the DFO investigation will provide insight into the specifics of this anchor system and how the Humpback died. Wherever there are lines or fishing gear in the ocean, there is the potential for entanglement, especially in areas where Humpbacks are feeding. They feed on krill and small schooling fish like herring and it can be expected that these prey are in the same areas as open-net fish farms. It is essential to realize that Humpbacks do not have the biosonar that toothed whales like Orca have and they can be extremely oblivious of boats, let alone fishing gear.
Also note that if whales have enough mobility to swim away, entanglement also can also cause death due to the fishing gear in which they are wrapped leading to serious injuries and infections, and/or because the gear makes it impossible for them to travel and feed effectively.

5. How often to whales die from entanglement on BC’s coast?
Preliminary research conducted by the Marine Education and Research Society and DFO supports that 47% of Humpbacks have scarring on their tailstocks that indicate that they have been entangled and survived, i.e. almost one in two Humpbacks that feed on BC’s coast have been entangled at some point in their lives (>1,000 Humpbacks). This indicates how widespread the risk of entanglement is, but does not indicate how many Humpbacks die due to entanglement. Dead whales most often sink to the ocean bottom whereby their deaths cannot be documented. If their bodies do wash ashore on BC’s vast coastline, often they are so decayed that cause of death cannot be determined.

6. Have there only been two Humpback Whales entangled in Marine Harvest open-net salmon farms in the last 30 years?
Yes, specifically at Marine Harvest farms, and specifically for this marine mammal species, there have been two reported cases of Humpback entanglement. There was another documented case of a dead Humpback Whale at an open net fish farm in March 2013 near Tofino at a Mainstream Canada site (now Cermaq). The statement regarding “30 years” in “Whale found dead at empty aquaculture site” must be weighted out against the reality that Humpbacks were extremely rare on BC’s coast even 15 years ago. Humpbacks were whaled in BC waters up to 1966. To give an indication of how Humpback numbers have increased since then, our research shows that in the islands outside Telegraph Cove on NE Vancouver Island alone, we documented just 7 Humpbacks in 2004 and, this year to date, we have documented 83 individuals (some just passing through). The population estimate for Humpbacks feeding in BC waters is at least 2,000 individuals. With more Humpbacks, there is more risk of entanglement. 

7. Are there regulations around the gear left at fallow fish farms?
No, there are not. It is hoped this will be an outcome of what is learned from these entanglements. See #10 below for what regulations do pertain to aquaculture and marine mammals.

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8. Is the ID of the dead Humpback known?
No, it is not known. It is hoped that as part of the investigation, Humpback researchers like ourselves may be able to be of use in trying to identify who this whale was.

9. What should be done if someone witnesses an entanglement?
• With great urgency, report the entanglement with location to the DFO Incident Line / VHF 16. 1-800-465-4336.
• If at all possible, remain with the whale at a distance until trained help arrives or another boat takes over tracking, otherwise the chances of relocating the whale are greatly diminished
• Take whatever video/photos are possible but maintain a distance that doesn’t stress the whale (at least 100 metres).
Do NOT attempt to remove any fishing gear or rope from the whale as it risks human and whale safety (has led to human death). Professional training and equipment are needed to assess the entanglement and proceed safely with the greatest chance of success. Often, much of the fishing gear in which the whale is entangled is not visible at the surface. If well-intentioned members of the public remove the gear at the surface, it is made much more difficult to: (1) recognize that the whale is entangled; and (2) disentangle the whale even if it is relocated. Trailing gear at the surface provides the opportunity for trained responders to attach a tag to track the whale and/or to attach floatation to maintain contact with and slow down an entangled whale. Loss of this gear can significantly reduce rescuers’ ability to save the whale.

For more information regarding reducing the risk of vessel strike and entanglement, see www.SeeABlowGoSlow.org.

10. What regulations are there around reporting and reducing the risk of entanglement at finfish aquaculture sites?
• [Update July 2018 – Amendments to Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations came into effect on July 11th.  The amendments include mandatory reporting of any accidental contact between a marine mammal and a vehicle or fishing gear. Click here for the full Regulations.]
 In the Pacific Aquaculture Regulations, marine mammals are regulated under the term “nuisance fish” and there is obligatory reporting on “the number and species of nuisance fish that die as a result of the aquaculture facility’s operations.”
• Section 10 of the Marine Finfish Aquaculture License specifies conditions around “management of Marine Mammal Interactions” and includes “The licence holder must notify the Department [DFO] of any marine mammal drowning mortality or entanglement (live or dead) not later than 24 hours after discovery.”

An important development in the United States is that as of January 1, 2017, foreign fisheries must adhere to the provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) which address the incidental mortality and serious injury of marine mammals. There is an exemption period for compliance to January 10, 2022. The provisions include: 

  •  With respect to foreign fisheries, section 101(a)(2) of the MMPA states that the Secretary of the Treasury shall ban the importation of commercial fish or products from fish which have been caught with commercial fishing technology which results in the incidental kill or incidental serious injury of ocean mammals in excess of United States standards. For purposes of applying the preceding sentence, the Secretary of Commerce shall insist on reasonable proof from the government of any nation from which fish or fish products will be exported to the United States of the effects on ocean mammals of the commercial fishing technology in use for such fish or fish products exported from such nation to the United States. (16 U.S.C. 1371(a)(2))
  • Section 102 (c)(3) of the MMPA states that it is unlawful to import into the United States any fish, whether fresh, frozen, or otherwise prepared, if such fish was caught in a manner which the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) has proscribed for persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, whether or not any marine mammals were in fact taken incident to the catching of the fish. (16 U.S.C. 1372(c)(3)).

Contact information: For further information regarding the work of MERS to understand the risk of entanglement to Humpbacks: Email info@mersociety.org. Phone  250-956-3525 or 250-230-7136.

Media related to the two November 2016 entanglements referenced above: