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Humpback whale fishing net entanglements on the rise

WATCH ABOVE: Several whales have been rescued in the last few months after getting entangled in fishing nets. It can be a deadly problem for whales. If the marine mammals get trapped in fishing nets and lines, it can prevent them from breathing and feeding. Linda Aylesworth reports.

It’s a growing problem. Whales, humpbacks in particular, keep getting tangled in lines that are often used by commercial prawn and crab fishermen.

There have been six entangled humpbacks  — one a week since June — that have been reported so far. Of those six humpbacks recently spotted off the B.C. coast, four were successfully rescued and two got away and have yet to be relocated.

“If we continue at this rate, it will be a record year for whale entanglements in our area,” says Paul Cottrell from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Since whaling ended along the B.C. coast in the 1960s, decimated whale populations have been making a slow comeback. But with the increase in their population comes a tragic twist — more humpbacks are getting entangled in nets and trap lines.

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According to Cottrell, it is dangerous to disentangle a whale, and not just for the rescuer. If the wrong lines around the animal are cut first, the whale can get away before the job is completed. If that happens, it can be difficult or in some cases impossible to catch the mammal and complete the disentanglement.

It is one of the reasons the Department of Fisheries and Oceans asks anyone who comes across a whale in distress to contact their DFO marine mammal 24-hour hotline at 1-800-465-4336.

It is also the reason Cottrell keeps his rescue gear in his vehicle at all times since he never knows when the next call will come in.

“Well it’s devastating to see animals in that situation and shape,” he says.

“It’s terrible to see a human-caused lethal situation on these whales where it’s devastating for the whale and the long-term prognosis. If it’s not removed the animal is going to die.”

~ with files from Linda Aylesworth