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Keeping whales free from fishing gear

Release date: August 2021
Brochure: Keeping whales free from fishing gear
Description: Keeping whales free from fishing gear

Best practices to reduce whale entanglements

Entanglement in active or lost fishing gear poses a major threat to whales in British Columbia. You can help make a difference.

All fishing gear, including ropes and nets, can pose a threat to whales. Gear can wrap around a whale’s body, tail, fins, and/ or its mouth, affecting its ability to feed, travel, or breathe. Gear entanglements can cause injury or death to whales as well as a high cost to fish harvesters due to loss of their gear and catch.

The threat of entanglement is so great that preliminary research found nearly 50% of all humpbacks sampled in B.C. have scarring indicating that they have been entangled.Footnote 1

Grey whales and humpback whales are two of the most commonly entangled whale species in the Pacific Northwest. From spring to fall these whales spend a lot of time in shallow coastal waters, making them especially prone to interactions with fishing gear, especially traps.

Whale entanglements can go undetected and unreported in British Columbia’s vast coastline. By being aware of these best practices you can help reduce injury and death of marine mammals, such as the Grey Whale and Humpback Whale.

If you are planning to go trap fishing, here are some ways you can help prevent whale entanglements.

While fishing…


Incorrectly executed disentanglements can further distress and injure an animal. If you see an entangled whale, or other marine mammal, the best action you can take for your safety and the safety of the animal, is to report the incident immediately so authorized responders can initiate a response. Authorized responders have specialized skills, equipment, training, and experience which allow them to effectively assess the entanglement, ensuring that gear is removed in a way that maximizes the whale’s chance of long-term survival.

What you should do if you see an entangled whale

Report entangled whales immediately to initiate a marine mammal response. Reporting incidents, such as vessel strikes, entanglements and other disturbances, can help save an animal’s life and provide useful data to help address future threats to marine mammals. Whales in distress can be unpredictable, making disentanglement very dangerous. Keep your distance and do not attempt to disentangle the whale, for your safety and the safety of the animal.

Removing entangling fishing gear is a complicated process as not all the gear may be visible at the surface. If only the visible portion of floating rope at the surface is removed, the animal still faces serious risk from the rope stuck in its mouth and wrapped around its tail. Moreover, trailing or visible gear at the surface is important for authorized responders to attach gear for the disentanglement, or attach tags, so that the entangled animal can be tracked to enable an effective and safe response.

  1. Do not attempt to disentangle the whale. You could injure yourself or the animal.
  2. Report any live injured, distressed, or dead whales immediately to the DFO 24/7 Incident Hotline listed below.
  3. Stay with the animal until an authorized responder or someone who can track the whale, arrives. Maintain the minimum required approach distance.Footnote 2
  4. Take photos and/or videos of the entangling gear and the whale. Photos can provide useful information about the individual and the nature of the entanglement.

How to report incidents involving marine mammals

Report marine mammal incidents to 1-800-465-4336, VHF radio channel 16 or email

Note: Reporting of collisions or accidental contact between vessels or fishing gear and marine mammals is mandatory under Canada’s Marine Mammal Regulations.

Additional resources