The whale beached in White Rock yesterday likely died as a result of being entangled in fishing line. The gashes on the whale’s fins and body suggest that the humpback whale had been snared for some time. Lance Barrett-Lennard, a sea mammal specialist with the Vancouver Aquarium, speculates that the entanglement prohibited the emaciated whale from properly feeding and diving for food.
The creature had become entangled with heavy nylon line in its mouth, baleen and fluke, and could have suffered for months before dying.
The humpbacks that swim along the B.C. coast migrate to Mexico and Hawaii, Barrett-Lennard noted, so it’s anyone’s guess where this whale encountered the line or even whether it was used in commercial fishing.
“It’s heavy multi-stranded monofilament,” said Barrett-Lennard. “I have no idea what it is. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve seen associated with fishing gear before.”
He added it was the “most emaciated” humpback he’d ever seen, and it’s likely the line prohibited the whale from swimming fast enough or diving deep enough to feed adequately.
Federal marine mammal coordinator Paul Cottrell said as their numbers grow in inshore waters “we’re seeing more interactions with fishing gear as well.”
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Ghost fishing is the term used for lost or abandoned fishing gear that continues to catch fish. These nets can be left tangled on a rocky reef or drifting in the open sea, or lay on the sea floor. They entangle all sorts of marine animals and other creatures. Animals caught in the ghost nets experience restricted movement, causing starvation, laceration, infection, and eventual death.
Wildlife experts believe nearly 4,000 nets and 14,000 crab pots lay abandoned in Puget Sound despite more than five years of removal efforts. The gear has already trapped and killed more than 30,000 animals, including marine mammals, fish and birds that dive for food. Read more about ghost fishing in Puget Sound. Refer to this blog post about efforts to clean Pacific coastal waters of ghost gear.
While specialists are speculating that the humpback whale died due to being enmeshed in the line, a necropsy will still be performed to determine the cause of death.