NOAA Fisheries has released two National Reports on Large Whale Entanglements Confirmed in the United States, for 2019 and 2020. In 2019, there were 75 confirmed entanglements nationally, which was a decrease from 2018 but remains near the historical average. In 2020, there were 53 entanglements confirmed nationally, and no entanglements were confirmed in two regions of the country.
Many large whale populations are increasing in the United States. However, entanglements in fishing gear or marine debris represent a growing threat to the continued welfare and recovery of these species. Severe entanglements can kill or seriously injure large whales. Entanglements involving threatened or endangered species can have significant negative impacts to the population as a whole.
To address this issue, NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program works with partners in the U.S. Large Whale Entanglement Response Network. We track and document as many of these entanglement incidents as possible. Entanglements represent a human-made threat to large whale populations.
Scientists and managers use entanglement data to determine the effect of entanglement on individuals and populations. They look at different aspects of each entanglement case, including rates and severity, configuration of the entanglement on the animal, type of gear or debris, and injuries and impact to the animal. They use this information to evaluate existing management measures and implement new management measures, as warranted, to reduce the threat of entanglement to large whales.
There were 75 confirmed cases nationally. This was near the 12-year average (73.6 + 22.8), but the number of confirmed entanglements was fewer than confirmed large whale entanglements in 2018. Some of the entanglements involved North Atlantic right whales on the East Coast; the threat of entanglements is impeding recovery of this endangered species approaching extinction. The U.S. Large Whale Entanglement Response Network was able to respond to 17 of the 67 cases that involved live whales that were entangled. They successfully removed entangling gear from 13 whales, increasing their chances of survival.
There were 53 confirmed cases nationally in 2020. This was below the 13-year average (73.8 + 22.0). The number of confirmed entanglements was more than 25 percent lower in 2020 when compared to 2019. It is unknown exactly what factors may be responsible for the decrease. It may be reflective of fewer entanglements or due to restrictions on mariners during the COVID-19 pandemic. There was both reduced fishing effort and also fewer ocean goers to observe and report cases. NOAA Fisheries will continue to analyze data from 2020 and will continue to document future large whale entanglements in U.S. waters to better understand if the decrease in confirmed entanglements is temporary (and possibly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic) or a long-term decrease.
Working with Partners
NOAA Fisheries is extremely proud to work with our partners in the U.S. Large Whale Entanglement Response Network. The Network is composed of highly skilled experts and trained response teams along all coasts. We maintain regional entanglement reporting hotlines that allows reports of entangled whales to quickly be relayed to the appropriate responders.
How You Can Help
Members of the public should not attempt to disentangle whales themselves and call authorized professional responders instead. Disentangling large whales is a dangerous activity that requires years of training, specialized knowledge and skills. There are also customized tools and equipment needed to ensure the safety of the animals and the response team. Authorized U.S. Large Whale Entanglement Response Network responders can typically remove more of the entangling gear than members of the public. This leads to better outcomes for the individual whale and improves information gained towards reducing future entanglement threats and impacts. If you encounter an entangled large whale, please call your regional hotline or contact the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF CH-16.
Regional Entanglement Hotlines
Maine through Virginia: (866) 755-6622
North Carolina through Texas: (877) 942-5343
California, Oregon, and Washington: (877) SOS-WHALE (877-767-9425)
Alaska: (877) 925-7773
Hawaii: (888) 256-9840