Fishers and Whales, a Tale of Caution

Friday, January 27, 2012

Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center whale experts would like to remind fishers to be aware of whales in Virginia ocean waters and to remove fishing gear from the water so that it will not harm them.

On Thursday, January 26, the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team received a report from the Rudee Flipper vessel (during a Virginia Aquarium Winter Wildlife Boat Trip) of a humpback whale that had been entangled in recreational fishing gear. The whale had been sighted several times in the area without gear, the latest date being January 21. The gear has been identified as a striped bass lure called a 'mojo' parachute lure which has a heavy lead head surrounded by a 'skirt' of fringe. At least one hook appears to be embedded in the whale's skin.

“The major concern with this type of entanglement is not the hook, but the trailing monofilament which, depending on how much line is attached, may wrap around an animal's flippers or jaw and cause lacerations, loss of circulation and/or infection,” said Susan Barco, Virginia Aquarium research coordinator and senior scientist.  “Entanglements in monofilament are extremely difficult to mitigate, and disentanglement is not possible in this case. As always, the best way to protect these animals is to prevent entanglements and vessel collisions. Since so many fishers are operating vessels and deploying gear in the vicinity of whales, the Virginia Aquarium asks for their cooperation in helping prevent further injury to any animals.”

NOAA Fisheries whale watching guidelines state that no intentional approaches should be made within 500 yards (1500 feet) of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, and within 100 yards (300 feet) of other whale species.  For more information, visit

If boaters encounter an entangled whale, please maintain a safe distance while attempting to keep the animal in sight and call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team immediately at (757) 385-7575.