Large Whale Entanglement Response Best Practices
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Large Whale Entanglement Response Best Practices

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  • Description:
    Entanglement in, and ingestion of, actively-fished gear, marine debris, and non-fishery-related gear, is a global problem affecting many marine species, including large whales. It has been estimated that hundreds of thousands of cetaceans die each year as a result of entanglements worldwide, representing a significant anthropogenic threat. Entanglement for large whales can result in serious injury and mortality. Entanglement also impacts fisheries and poses risks to responders that might attempt to free the animals. Responding to an entangled large whale is a challenging and dangerous undertaking. The likely mobility of the animal, unfavorable weather and sea-state conditions, lack of experienced and trained responders, along with support and resources (e.g., vessels, equipment), the animal’s large size, and its stressed and unpredictable nature, compound the challenges and safety concerns surrounding large whale entanglement response. People have been seriously injured and killed. This document provides Best Practices guidance towards safe and effective large whale entanglement response. It represents a set of proven currently used protocols and techniques, along with associated tools and technology, to safely free some (not all), large whales from life-threatening entanglements. However, the risk reduction in these Best Practices goes beyond that of animal welfare and human safety concerns represented by disentanglement efforts, and also considers the broader effort of gathering valuable information - “entanglement response”, that may ultimately mitigate the threat (and risks) of entanglement for large whales. Therefore, it includes necessary preparation and planning, as well as risk assessment and mitigation for animal and human safety, and the criteria and authorizations that need to be followed. The principal resources of large whale entanglement response are the trained, well-equipped, and experienced responders. Human safety is paramount; therefore, all large whale entanglement response efforts in the United States involving close approach are authorized, overseen, and permitted, under NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Protected Resources and their Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP). Although this document includes known/existing Best Practices, responders should never stop striving for innovative and new methods to increase the safety and success of an entanglement response. These protocols are meant as overall Best Practices and should not limit advances in techniques for improving animal welfare or increasing the safety, efficiency, or effectiveness of the response.
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