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NOAA Announces Confirmed Large Whale Entanglement Numbers in 2022

January 22, 2024

There were 67 large whale entanglement cases in 2022—a slight decrease from 2021, and slightly below the historical average.

Large whale entanglement responders attemot to free an entangled minke whale. One responder is in the bow of the boat and holding the control line while another use a dive mask to better visualize the entanglement configuration. Responders from the Center for Coastal Studies work to free an entangled minke whale on June 29, 2022. The animal was anchored in place after the whale had bitten down on a 20-pot trawl line. The team was able to cut the buoy line near the whale’s mouth, and the fisherman was able to recover the gear. Credit: Center for Coastal Studies; NOAA Permit No. 18786

NOAA Fisheries has released the National Report on Large Whale Entanglements Confirmed in the United States in 2022. In 2022, there were 67 confirmed entanglements nationally. This was a slight decrease from 2021 and still slightly below the historical average of 72.

While some large whale populations are increasing in the United States, entanglements in fishing gear or marine debris represent a continued threat to the welfare and recovery of these species. Entanglements can kill or seriously injure large whales and can cause significant pain to the entangled animal. They are also a significant threat to large whale species that are endangered and approaching extinction (e.g., North Atlantic right whales). Entanglements involving threatened or endangered species can have significant negative impacts to the population as a whole. For example, chronic entanglements are one reason scientists think that female North Atlantic right whales are having fewer calves and are taking longer to have calves.

2022 Entanglements

There were 67 confirmed cases nationally in 2022. This is slightly below the 69 confirmed large whale entanglement cases in 2021. This number is also slightly below the average annual number of confirmed entanglements over the previous 15 years (annual average was 72). We will continue to analyze data from 2022 to understand whether this dip is temporary or part of a longer term downward trend.

A photograph taken from above of a mother-calf humpback pair swimming in Hawai'i. The mother is entangled.
Entangled mother humpback whale calf in Hawai'i. This whale was successfully disentangled. Credit: Van Aswegen/University of Hawai'i-Manoa, Permit No. 21476-01, and NOAA Permit No. 18786

Working with Partners

NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program is 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. Network members track and document as many of these entanglement incidents as possible.

Scientists and managers use entanglement data to determine the impact of entanglement on individual whales and on populations. They look at different aspects of each entanglement case, including:

  • Entanglement rates
  • Entanglement severity
  • Configuration of the entanglement on the animal
  • Type of gear or debris
  • Injuries and impact to the animal

Experts use these criteria to evaluate existing management measures and implement new management measures, as warranted, to reduce the threat of entanglement to large whales.

How You Can Help

Do not attempt to disentangle whales yourself—call authorized professional responders instead. Disentangling large whales is a dangerous activity that requires years of training, specialized knowledge, and skills. Experts use customized tools and equipment 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 whale and improves information gained towards reducing future entanglement threats and impacts. If you encounter an entangled large whale, call your regional hotline.

Regional Entanglement Hotlines

Maine through Virginia: (866) 755-NOAA (1-866-755-6622)

North Carolina through Texas: (877) 942-5343

California, Oregon, and Washington: (877) SOS-WHALe (877-767-9425)

Alaska: (877) 925-7773

Hawaiʻi: (888) 256-9840

Last updated by Office of Protected Resources on January 24, 2024