Not All Entanglements End Happily

A Humpback Whale Fluke is unique and used to identify the animal.

Don't you love seeing whale and animal rescues on YOUTUBE or tv or the news? I know I do. I especially enjoy the one where the whale thanked her saviors by giving them a breaching display for over an hour. We all love happy endings, but not all of these stories end happily. In fact, most of them don't.

Most ocean lovers or divers dream of saving an animal in dire circumstances. Fish hooks, plastic, fishing nets, fishing lines...they are all enemies of our underwater friends. When these items are found in a national park, where no fishing is supposed to be permitted, it is that much more tragic. The number one killer of our cetacean and fishy friends?  Fishing nets. Dolphins, whales, mantas, whale sharks.....these are large species who are in grave danger from these carelessly placed fishermen who do not care about the possible casualties of other species. Did you know that 300,000 bodies of whales and dolphins wash ashore each year, killed by fishing nets? Just try to imagine the hundreds of thousands who disappear into the depths...the ones who do not wash ashore. And what a horrible death....long and drawn out, suffering from exhaustion, from asphyxia, and from the terrible fear and horror of being unable to get free.

2015-10-28-1446064002-4002928-rescueturtlenet.jpg We did save this small turtle from a net!

A year ago I was in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, volunteering as a scuba diver to take Identification photos of Manta Rays, Humpback Whales, Mola Molas, and dolphins for the Marine Megafauna Foundation....and the boat trip to the dive site was filled with whale sightings.  The Humpbacks were out in force....blowing and breaching! How can someone fail to be touched by the sight of pods of whales with their babies, waving, flipping, breaching?  Right now, the whales are migrating through Ecuador, off the coast of Puerto Lopez, a fishing village where 3 major currents converge. Our group went out daily in a boat to dive Isla de la Plata, where Mantas aggregate in huge numbers at this time of year.  The sight of the whales coming through is an incredible bonus. Most of the time.

2015-10-28-1446064137-8521996-is14deadbabyhammerhead640x480.jpgMost endings aren't happy when they involve fishing net.

Hearing about entangled whales is one thing, but witnessing it gives one an entirely different perspective. Our group came across an adult Humpback Whale, tangled in fishing net over its mouth, eyes and blowhole.  The odds of freeing it were slim, and we had to choose:  snorkel with feeding mantas on the surface (always exciting) or try to free the whale? We decided to try to save the whale. Two of the foundation's leaders, Andrea and Janneman, grabbed their gear and jumped in to help.  They went in four times, managing a few cuts of the net, but the whale was just too fearful to allow them to help. It was heartbreaking, watching this magnificent animal struggling to survive. We were at Isla de la Plata, in the heart of the Machalilla National Park located in Ecuador, a park forbidding fishing for 2 miles out in every direction from the island. Every morning there were several fishing boats very close to the island. Not one of them stopped to help. In fact, we saw one of the boats hook a manta (they released it, but they usually leave the hook and line in the animal). There was no one policing the rules of the national park...I wonder if someone is out there now?

You can clearly see the net.

Larry, Andrea and Janneman, waiting for the whale to surface again.


Trying to help.

You know, putting aside our compassion for other creatures, (especially animals of such high intelligence and social behavior), humpback whales, mantas, whale sharks, and dolphins bring in a tremendous amount of tourist dollars. They are worth so much more in the ocean, unharmed, than they are dead. The deaths of these animals are not just senseless and cruel, they are harmful to the local economies they could be supporting!  If you want to help, and I hope you do, please go to Marine Megafauna Foundation or  Adopt an animal, be a volunteer, boycott businesses who sell illegal products! I can tell you this: I know the folks at MMF personally, and every dollar goes to research and helping those animals.  No one is living the high life in this organization.

It was not possible to save the animal. The danger to Andrea and Janneman was immense....a full grown humpback whale could break a person's bones easily. These animals are huge, and a fearful dive could drown a person who could not free their hand from the net in time.  We were all saddened to leave the animal, but there was nothing further to do.  The other volunteers had been involved in a successful whale rescue a few years ago...but last year there was no happy ending for at least one magnificent Humpback.