Entangled in rope for months

Author // Lucy Babey Categories // Whale & Dolphin General News

Entangled in rope for months
Photo credit: Andy Gilbert

A sad story from Scotland which saw a juvenile humpback whale entangled in fishing rope for months, resulting in a slow death

Whales, dolphins and porpoises face a number of threats in the world, many of which are unfortunately caused by humans and the incidental capture of whales, dolphins and porpoise in fishing gear (bycatch) is one of the greatest.

There are estimates that that around 640,000 tonnes of new ghost fishing gear is lost or discarded in our oceans every year. Gill nets, crab/lobster pots and traps are amongst the most impactful – the net fibres have a high tensile strength and are very thin in diameter which makes them almost invisible in water but easily able to cut through skin. Large baleen whales are also victims of bycatch; more commonly referred to as ‘entanglement’, and around the UK minke whales and humpback whales are most at risk. 

Last week this growing threat, saw a male juvenile humpback whale drown and wash up on a beach on the East Lothian coast in Scotland. The whale had struggled his way through cralle fishing lines and it is thought had been entangled in rope for weeks, maybe even months therefore leading to a very slow death.

A necropsy carried out on Wednesday 24th April, discovered that the 30ft whale had ‘deep cuts into its blubber layer’, suffered from a ‘sever chronic infection’ and had a surprisingly big number of parasites on its body.

Dr Andrew Brownlow, veterinary pathologist for the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), told BBC Scotland news website “This was an entanglement case and from the tissue lesions it had been like it for weeks, if not months. It stops the animals from being able to feed properly or exhibit normal behaviour which weakens the animal and then it drowns. It’s a real eye opener for us on the effect we can have on animals”.

ORCA’s Hebrides Wildlife Officer, Andy Gilbert was also present at the necropsy and said “This was an extremely sad day but one that was both profoundly emotional and fascinating at the same time. To see such a magnificent animal at close quarters and watch the scientific process that informs our protection of these whales being undertaken was humbling.”  

Although this was an extremely sad situation, the team carrying out the necropsy were pleased not to find any plastic in the stomach of the whale.

Bycatch and entanglement is a global threat, but the risk to whales of being entangled in fishing gears off the coast of Scotland is increasing as their numbers increase.

ORCA are continuing to work with governments and other NGO’s to create safer spaces for whales, dolphins and porpoises and protect our marine wildlife from these cruel threats.