Two of the main sources of mortality for large baleen whales around the world are ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.  In order to minimize the risk to whales requires knowledge of how these animals behave and where the potential sources of interactions between humans and whales occurs.  Through a collaboration with Cascadia Research Collective, we are committed to collaborating with industry to better understand how baleen whales behave both in the presence and absence of ships and fishing gear and use this knowledge to collectively develop strategies to minimize the harmful impacts to whales in California waters.

Whale entanglement is a growing problem

A recent report estimated that 300,000 whales and dolphins die annually  due to entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris. Photo courtesy of the International Whaling Commission. 

Whales did not evolve with knowledge of the risks associated with ships and fishing gear and thus their behavior in the presence of these threats may not be enough to keep them from harm.  The first step in understanding how we can minimize the risk to whales is to understand their behavior, specifically in the areas during the times when shipping and fishing are present.  We are achieving this by deploying a number of different tags on whales that contain a suite of sensors that allow us to recreate the underwater behavior of the whales in very high-resolution and also provide the geographic location of the whale for a period of up to 2 weeks.  We will then work to experimentally test how the behavior of whales changes in the presence of risk, and how human activities can be altered to minimize negative interactions.


Assessing the Risk

By evaluating the underwater behavior of whales, COA can determine when and where whales are most at risk, and share this information with local government, fishermen, and disentanglement rescue teams.