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September 6, 2006

Contact: Mary Jane Schramm
Gulf of the Farallones
National Marine Sanctuary
(415) 561-6622 ext 205



This September, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will offer two public outreach events and conduct trainings in whale rescue techniques in Northern and Central California. A NOAA disentanglement expert will demonstrate techniques and gear used to disengage large whales from fishing gear and non-fishery equipment and marine debris. The presentation will include discussion of the permits and procedures required, and present case histories of previous rescue operations. The events are co-sponsored by the NOAA Fisheries Service’s Office of Protected Resources, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

"For both the animals' welfare, as well as human safety, it is important that only specially trained and authorized personnel attempt to disentangle whales from gear or marine debris," said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries Service lead marine mammal veterinarian and director of the NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.  "The public should never attempt to disentangle a marine mammal, whether from a vessel or in the water, because the activity is inherently dangerous to both the animals and the people trying to assist." 

Only specially permitted, experienced and trained personnel working under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and sometimes the Endangered Species Act may cut gear and marine debris from a whale. NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program holds the only permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act that authorizes disentanglement activities for large whales and other species of marine mammals listed as threatened or endangered.

The first public presentation will be Wednesday, Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, 8727 Moss Landing Road in Moss Landing, south of Santa Cruz. The second presentation will take place on Thursday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Bay Model, 2100 Bridgeway in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco. NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program staff and local rescue responders will provide information on the several species of whales at risk in California national marine sanctuaries, and engage in an information exchange specific to local waters. Equipment used to free whales will be on display.

A group of invited professionals will also receive special training at the Moss Landing facility and adjacent harbor on Tuesday, Sept. 19, consisting of classroom sessions and vessel-based training and exercises. Whale disentanglement specialist Edward Lyman from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will lead the informational meetings and conduct the training. Lyman has also worked with the fishing industry to help them devise “whale-safe” gear and practices to prevent entanglement.

Entanglement can hinder a whale’s ability to swim, resulting in drowning or vulnerability to ship collision; can impede its ability to feed, leading to starvation; or can cause physical trauma from the injuries which can lead to infection and death. An estimated 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year from entanglement in fishing gear, indicating that fisheries by-catch is the single greatest human-related cause of cetacean mortality. To date, hundreds of whales have been freed, using special techniques, including some adapted from the whaling industry.

Last winter, divers in the Gulf of the Farallones managed to free an exhausted humpback whale. However, many would-be rescuers who have jumped into the ocean to free an animal have died or been critically injured. Would-be rescuers can also injure a whale by improper equipment or techniques.

Thousands of endangered humpbacks and blue whales feed in California national marine sanctuaries during summer and fall, coinciding with salmon season. In addition, the annual gray whale migration coincides with the winter-spring Dungeness crab season, when more than 170,000 crab pots, each attached to a line and surface buoy, lie in their path.

“National marine sanctuaries are important habitats to several endangered species, which only now are recovering from whaling and other human-related impacts,” said Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Maria Brown. “We need to be prepared to act quickly and effectively when such an incident occurs.”

Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which recently implemented a project to track marine debris at sea, was established in 1981 to protect the near-shore waters of the California Coast north and west of San Francisco.

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs.  Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA. The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

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