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Press Release

Experts Assist in Successful Disentanglement of Humpback Whale

  • Entanglement

The Marine Mammal Center Assists in the Successful Disentanglement of a Humpback Whale in Monterey Bay

Expert first responders from The Marine Mammal Center and several partner agencies under the direction of The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) successfully disentangled a juvenile humpback whale from fishery debris on December 13 in Monterey Bay. The successful effort marks an increased ability for the Center and partners in NOAA’s West Coast Large Whale Entanglement Response Program to utilize strong, longterm partnerships to pool necessary experience and expertise when mounting a response to an entangled whale. 

“The stars really have to align for a mission like this because there are so many moving pieces from weather conditions to distance from shore to the ability to locate the whale,” says Kathi George, Global Response Project Manager at The Marine Mammal Center. “In order for the mission to move forward, you need to have an experienced crew, the right equipment and a solid plan in place that prioritizes human safety.” 

On December 13, a tow boat operator reported an entangled whale to the U.S. Coast Guard allowing stand-by response teams to locate the animal and determine the configuration of the fishery debris was life threatening. Experts initially attached five large buoys to the whale to help slow it down. Using a small inflatable boat to carefully approach the animal, experts made a single cut utilizing a specialized tool to cut the debris free from the whale’s back. The successful cut allowed the whale to swim away freely and the gear was collected for documentation. The source of the entanglement has not been confirmed. 

Our work in responding to entangled whales is absolutely critical and necessary—but it’s vital that we also look at the larger issue in a holistic way.

“Our work in responding to entangled whales is absolutely critical and necessary—but it’s vital that we also look at the larger issue in a holistic way,” says Ryan Berger, Northern Range Operations Manager at The Marine Mammal Center. “It’s going to take research, innovation and partnerships with fishermen, industries and communities to solve the more complex problems that lead to entanglements in the first place.” 

The entangled humpback whale was first reported off the coast of Capitola by a fishing vessel to the Center and NOAA’s entangled whale hotline on December 9 and subsequently on December 10 and 11. Responses by the USCG on December 9 and a multi-agency response on December 11 were unsuccessful in initially locating the whale. 

Without intervention, an entanglement of this severity on a growing animal would eventually lead to death. For long-lived animals like these that are slow to mature and slow to reproduce, the loss of just one individual can have a population-level impact. 

The Center’s addition this year of a new Cetacean Field Research Program and California Whale Rescue marks an increased capacity to deploy experts as a leading first responders to whales, dolphins and porpoises in distress. 

The multi-day effort included experts from the Marine Life Studies’ Whale Entanglement Team, Cascadia Research and SR3 Sealife Response Rehabilitation and Research.

For more information or to set up an interview on this topic, please contact us at



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Ryan Berger
Kathi George
Humpback Whale