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The Marine Mammal Center Expands Entangled Whale Response Efforts

The Center is providing a home for the nonprofit formerly known as California Whale Rescue to bring solutions-focused response to whale entanglements along the California coast and beyond.

Kathi George (center) & Ryan Berger (right) during a whale entanglement response

December 2, 2019

The Marine Mammal Center is excited to announce the expansion of its entangled whale response efforts, which will be led by Kathi George, one of the founders of the former nonprofit California Whale Rescue. Heather Willis, another co-founder, will also join the team as a Response Associate.

Kathi and Ryan Berger, the Center’s Northern Range Operations Manager, are co-investigators on NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health & Stranding Response Program’s permit to disentangle whales. Together, they have participated in six whale disentanglements and numerous entangled whale responses as well as over 50 sea lion disentanglements.

Earlier in her career, Kathi led a cross-functional team to develop The Marine Mammal Center’s Special Rescue Operations processes. She returns to the Center in the role of Global Response Project Manager, bringing with her over 15 years of experience with marine mammal entanglements, specializing in entangled whale response.

In addition to advancing the entangled whale response network, Kathi’s work has emphasized the need for collaborative solutions with various stakeholders—including the fishing community—to reduce the risk of whale entanglement. She will pursue this work through the management of the Solar Logger project—funded by the California Ocean Protection Council—and serving as a member of the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Whale Entanglement Working Group.

Humpback whale breaching near San Francisco | Photo by Allison Payne © The Marine Mammal Center

As part of the expansion of our whale response program, The Marine Mammal Center will:

  • Increase capacity to respond to entangled whales
  • Organize, manage and advance entangled whale response
  • Support and enhance NOAA Fisheries’ efforts to standardize whale disentanglement response practices, gear, communications and training
  • Assure best practices for human and animal safety during responses
  • Represent the entangled whale response network in efforts to reduce whale entanglement

Entanglement Prevention

Established in September 2015, the California Dungeness Crab Fishing Gear Whale Entanglement Working Group formed to address the increase in large whale entanglements in Dungeness crab fishing gear and is charged with maintaining thriving whale populations and a thriving Dungeness crab fishery. The Working Group is comprised of representatives from the commercial and recreational fishing community, environmental organizations, state and federal agencies, and the entanglement response network.

The Working Group developed a process to identify and evaluate the relative risk of increased entanglement by looking at four factors: ocean conditions and prey availability, whale concentrations, fishing dynamics and the rate of entanglements. This process, called the RAMP (Risk Assessment and Mitigation Program), aims to reduce the risk of whale entanglement in Dungeness crab fishing gear.

In order to collect some of the data needed for the RAMP, the Center’s Solar Logger project will equip up to 40 commercial fishing vessels and up to 20 whale watch boats or commercial passenger fishing vessels within the California Dungeness crab fishing grounds with solar loggers. These solar-powered vessel tracking information systems record vessel positions every few seconds.

After analyzing data from the solar loggers across vessels and locations, heat maps of Dungeness crab fishing and whale watching activities will be created on a monthly basis to inform the relative risk of whale entanglements.

Entanglements have been identified by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service as the leading cause of mortality to large whales in the United States. With the addition of California Whale Rescue and Kathi’s expertise, the Center is now better equipped to address this threat and make positive changes both locally and internationally to protect these species.

You Can Make a Difference!

As whales continue to face human-caused threats in our ocean, it is imperative that we support solutions-focused research. Be a part of the solution by making a donation today.

Thank you for caring about marine mammals and their ocean home.

Humpback Whale | Photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center
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