Save A Whale! While we “Save the Whales!”

Last week, representatives from NOAA’s Whale Entanglement Response Network ventured out to the Paint Factory to meet with the Ocean Alliance team. This meeting was the culmination of many conversations between NOAA and Ocean Alliance, but it officially marked the beginning of our participation in the Whale Entanglement Response Network. David Morin, NOAA’s Northeast Region Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator sat down with our team to discuss whale entanglement and subsequently, disentanglement, as a whole – an introductory course to my own unrealized life’s dream. Needless to say, I was wicked excited.
If you’re unaware of whale entanglement, it is an unfortunately too common problem where a whale is caught up in something that binds them – causing severe injury or death in many cases. In what do whales become entangled, you may ask? David Morin made it pretty clear that over his career, he has seen whales tangled up in just about everything. Most common however, is any type of line or equipment hanging vertically in the water column.
The NOAA Whale Entanglement Program is primarily composed of a volunteer response network including both individuals and organizations who work collaboratively with NOAA to quickly respond to entanglement cases. In such cases, time is of the essence, as the longer a whale is entangled, the more likely it is that it will not survive, even after successfully being disentangled. Therefore, most responders have fast boats with crews ready at a moment’s notice. Throughout the whole presentation, I couldn’t help but think of Revolutionary War Minutemen combined with the training I associated with the Navy Seals. As the presentation went on, it became more and more clear that this Minute Man daydream was more like reality than I would have figured.
While the Whale Entanglement Response Network is a global program, the network on the east coast of the United States is a pioneer in the field. So why is Ocean Alliance becoming involved? It turns out there is a small hole in the networks coverage along the east coast, a hole that is centered around Cape Ann. Member organizations like the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) in Provincetown, MA and the Marine Mammals of Maine response teams, have a several hour ride ahead of them before they could reach an entangled whale sighted off of Cape Ann. In that time, the entangled whale -thrashing and twisting for its life- can cover quite the distance, increasing the area that the response team must search.
So, with Ocean Alliance joining the network, using our own response boat we could get out to a sighted whale in half the time as CCS, possibly even quicker. At this stage, we do not have the required training to assist in a disentanglement, so if we were called on, our role would be to standby, mark the location of the whale, and document the details of the case. However, I know that I will be signing up for the next round of training at CCS, in order to develop the skills and knowledge required to disentangle a whale.
Since the beginning of the “Save the Whales!” movement, we have been at the vanguard, pushing for the salvation of cetacean species as a whole, whether from whaling or toxic ocean pollution. However, rarely have we had the opportunity to save a specific whale, one with a name and a story. Now, through this program we will get that opportunity, an opportunity that I know will be a life changing experience for both myself and the whale.
– Dan Albani, Marine Coordinator

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