National Marine Mammal Entanglement Response Networks
The national marine mammal entanglement response networks safely and effectively respond to reports of entangled marine mammals and provide response coverage in all coastal states.
Entanglement in, and ingestion of, active, lost, or discarded fishing gear and marine debris continues to be a global problem affecting many species, including marine mammals. Marine mammal entanglement response networks, administered by NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, were established to safely and effectively respond to reports of entangled marine mammals. Any species of marine mammal can become entangled, and the entanglement response networks are broken down by taxonomic group and required skill set:
- Large whales (baleen and sperm whales)
- Small cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, and small toothed whales)
- Pinnipeds (seals, fur seals, and sea lions)
Entangled marine animals can act erratically, and their unpredictable movements can threaten human safety. Let qualified experts respond to marine species in distress. You can help by reporting entangled marine mammals.
Objectives of the National Entanglement Response Networks
Through a National Entanglement Response Coordinator, working alongside regional coordinators, NOAA Fisheries oversees, manages, and authorizes all marine mammal entanglement response activities in the United States. The agency also provides some training, funding, and equipment to response personnel and organizations across the country. These response operations depend on the collaborative skills of many state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, coastal communities, and other individuals working together.
The objectives of the entanglement response networks are to:
- Conduct responses in a safe and effective manner
- Document, collect (if possible), and identify the source of entangling material
- Identify the most appropriate action, including the removal of the entangling material (if warranted and feasible)
- Use documentation to inform future management actions and support enforcement or litigation actions
Trained and Authorized Responders
Responding to entangled marine mammals is dangerous. Entanglement response operations are complex, unpredictable, and inherently dangerous for both the responders and animals. Authorized responders go through extensive training to learn techniques and protocols that prioritize human and animal safety. They are trained and experienced, and are experts in marine mammal behavior, biology, and health; vessel operations; and animal capture and handling.
Risks to Responders
Entangled animals that are stressed and injured pose significant risks and have been known to bite, injure, and kill well-intentioned rescuers, even those with training and experience. In addition to the risks to responders from animals, the specialized tools used by entanglement response teams—including knives, lines, nets, and large buoys—can also present dangers for responders. All entanglement responses prioritize human safety to avoid injuries to the entanglement response teams and the public.
Why Entanglement Response Matters
Entanglements are detrimental to the health and welfare of marine mammals, causing:
- Cuts into skin, blubber, and muscle
- Risk of infection
- Extra energy expenditure
- Decreased body condition
- Decreased reproductive success
These injuries can result in death from infection, starvation, amputation, blood loss, strangulation, or drowning.
The removal of some or all of the entangling material by response teams increases the likelihood of that animal surviving, and contributes to broader protected species conservation efforts.
Analyzing what is removed from entangled animals provides information that may reduce the risk of future entanglements. This ultimately aids in the conservation and management of many species, including those listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. For some species that have small populations, the loss of one individual (especially breeding females) could have negative impacts on the population’s recovery.
Entanglement response to individual animals is not a sustainable solution in the long term, and preventing and minimizing marine mammal entanglement is a critical goal for NOAA and our partners.
NOAA works with many external partners to document, identify, and recover entangling gear (when possible). Data gathered through entanglement response activities can highlight which types of fishing gear or debris pose the greatest threat to marine mammals and which species and geographic areas are most susceptible. This information is used to understand population trends and to guide targeted measures to mitigate threats, while supporting marine communities.
Outreach and education is also at the center of entanglement response networks; increasing awareness and promoting stewardship will help reduce entanglement threats. Preventing marine mammal entanglement is a collaborative effort, and we need your help.
What Can You Do?
If you come across an entangled marine mammal, please report it immediately, and remain at least 50 yards (150 feet) away from the animal. The Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program relies on reports by the public to conduct its vital work to save animals in distress and understand causes of injuries and mortalities.
Only experienced responders who have been authorized by NOAA Fisheries and who have the appropriate training, experience, equipment, and support should attempt marine mammal entanglement response. When well-intentioned members of the public take matters into their own hands to try to save marine mammals, they put themselves and the animals in grave danger. Further, removal of pieces of fishing gear or marine debris by untrained members of the public could make it harder for trained rescue teams to find the animal again, resolve the full entanglement, and recover and identify any entangling material.