Crab commission backs Oregon State study on how to reduce whale entanglements

Whale entanglement. Courtesy: NOAA

COOS BAY, Ore. - The number of whales getting tangled in fishing gear is climbing, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission is working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Coast Guard, Oregon Sea Grant, and Oregon State University Marine Mammal Ecologist Dr. Leigh Torres on a study to find ways to keep whales from being entangled.

Dr. Torres said the goal is "to collect better information about where whales are off the coast of Oregon, where whales might be at greater and lower risk of entanglement of fishing gear."

She said whales can also get caught in the lines of crabbing pots.

"When we notice that whales are gathering at certain hotspots, then you can get the fisherman from dropping gear at these hotspots which will allow the whales to continue, unencumbered," Tim Novotny with the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission said.

He said fisherman do not want to entangle whales - both for the animal's safety, as well as the financial burden of loosing hundreds of dollars in equipment.

Novotny said the Crab Commission is spending 45-thousand dollars for the first year of the study.

He said the commission's decision participate in the study was made easier by keeping the cost down through the U.S. Coast Guard.

He said they will allow an observer from Oregon State University to be on the helicopter flight at no charge.

They will be fly over the coast from Tillamook to Port Orford for a total of 24 observation surveys, to be made bi-monthly for two years.

NOAA reported 31 cases of entangled whales in fishing gear in 2017, 16 of those being humpback whales.

The incidents occurred of the coasts of Washington, Oregon, California and Mexico.

Torres said she plans to apply for federal grants to fund future years of the study.

Torres plans to meet with the U.S. Coast Guard in North Bend in a couple of weeks to discuss flight schedules and begin the study.

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