Whale entanglement responders trained in Petersburg

July 11, 2017

two people in small boat on the water, one tossing a grappling hook Whale disentanglement training. Photo by Kelly Bakos.

Whale entanglements in fishing gear are infrequent near Petersburg, Alaska, but when they happen the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center (PMMC) needs a decent-sized pool of trained people to draw from to respond.

On June 30, Ed Lyman helped build the PMMC response team by providing training in large whale disentanglement response methods. Lyman is the large whale entanglement response coordinator at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

“Three NOAA enforcement officers, four PMMC board members and two other volunteers participated, so that will help us be better able to respond to anything that should come up,” said Alaska Sea Grant’s Sunny Rice, who is on the PMMC board.

Kelly Bakos, a volunteer with PMMC, made a video about the disentanglement training with Ed Lyman.

“We generally respond to one or two entanglements a year, but the kind of people that are willing to respond also tend to be very busy with other jobs or parts of their lives in the summer,” Rice said. “Five new responders received training and four existing volunteers got a refresher, so that will help us be better able to respond to anything that should come up.”

Even though Petersburg has a pool of nine people now, what each person will be authorized to do during a disentangling incident depends on the situation and their level of training. The newly trained people might only be able to stand by and keep an eye on the whale. More advanced people could attach a telemetry buoy. A good group of experienced people is needed to actually attempt any disentangling, Rice said.

PMMC and Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agents are part of the marine mammal stranding and entanglement response network in Alaska

— By Sue Keller and Sunny Rice

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.