Entanglement in fishing gear and ocean debris, such as monofilament materials and plastics, is becoming a global threat to wildlife, especially marine mammals and turtles.
The information in this guide explains how marine animals become entangled and the proper steps for initiating an authorised entanglement response.
Distressing images of sea life snared in man-made fibers, nylons, and plastics have become far too commonplace.
If nothing else, it emphasises the urgent need to act! But what can we do to reduce the deadly impact on wildlife?
Furthermore, how do ocean advocates and ambassadors call for help - and who will respond?
We should be thankful that trained professionals are out there, working on the front lines of marine animal rescues around the world.
In addition, we should also accept and understand that the majority of these interventions are dangerous. Safely capturing at-risk marine life to remove entanglements is a high-risk job for the rescuers.
In the main, these defenceless creatures drown or starve. Marine debris restricts their normal behaviour, and they also suffer painful infections and physical trauma when trash cuts into their flesh.
One of the biggest problems for water-based creatures is fishing gear entanglement. In fact, it affects more than 260 aquatic species, and it often results in a slow and painful death.
It doesn't take long for a small creature to drown if a heavy object is weighing it down. Hence, death by drowning kills a lot of dolphins, porpoises, shorebirds, small whales, and sea turtles.
Drowning is less of a risk for large whale species. Often, they can still swim as they pull an object that is attached to their body. Nonetheless, exhaustion and systemic infection would still be a serious threat to their survival.
The bottom line is this:
Even if an animal survives the initial trauma, there are other long-term effects associated with entanglement. They include fatigue, deformity (sometimes amputation), deteriorating health, decreased ability for reproduction, and of course - starvation.
The most vulnerable animals for getting entangled are birds, dolphins, seals, sea lions, turtles, and whales. Typical discarded objects that entangle marine animals, include:
Pro Tip: The risk of death from a vessel strike increases for entangled animals because they may be unable to use their normal body movement to escape. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) estimates 300,000 dolphins, porpoises, and whales die globally each year from entanglements.
Trash and discarded human garbage is a common sight at beaches, parklands, and rivers. As a result, this litter or pollution often ends its journey in the ocean. This can present a severe entanglement risk for marine life.
But, there are several ways that the scuba diving community can help prevent marine animal entanglement. Plus, snorkelers and free divers also have an important role in prevention and for reporting injured wildlife.
Public awareness is very important. The general public can help solve the problem of entanglements. Furthermore, knowing what to do if we see a marine animal in distress (and what not to do) is crucial. For example:
Important: Many public awareness campaigns help divers and non-divers use safer practices and support select ocean conservation programs (e.g. PADI AWARE Dive Against Debris).
Note: The short video [3:01 seconds] presented by WWF-Canada contains safety information about how to approach and help entangled marine wildlife.