Minke whale entangled off Mull coast


Over the last few weeks, a number of sightings of minke whales feeding around the north coast of Mull have been reported to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT). Very sadly however, on Thursday 6th July, the HWDT team received reports of a deceased minke whale floating just off the coast of Mull. With the support of Trevor Potts, HWDT staff travelled out to a remote part of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula to collect tissue samples and photographs of the animal, on behalf of the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS). SMASS have confirmed that this female minke most likely died due to entanglement in a rope around her tail. From initial photographs and samples, the whale appeared to have been an otherwise healthy adult.

HWDT’s Science Officer, Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills, said, “In this case the timely reporting of the dead whale, even at sea, enabled us to track its movements, access it when it stranded and determine the cause of death. It is crucial that we are aware of these cases, as it helps to help us to understand the different threats that whales face in the Hebrides. The public play such a vital role in monitoring our seas. Thank you to everyone who took the time to report the whale and send in their photographs.”

HWDT and SMASS are part of a new cross sector collaborative project, working to understand and reduce the risk of animals becoming entangled in creel (fishing pot) lines. Earlier this year, new information cards were published, providing emergency contact details and guidance on entanglement; designed to hang in the wheelhouse of fishing vessels. Also involved in the project are the Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation, Scottish Natural Heritage, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and veterinary pathologist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), said, “One of the vital aspects of this entanglement project is to encourage creelers to report these cases, rather than just cut them free. If we can understand the type of equipment involved in these entanglements, and the way the animal became entangled, we have a better chance of working out sensible mitigation strategies. Minimising entanglements in creel lines will reduce both whale mortality and the economic cost to fishermen due to the loss of gear. ”

Each organisation involved in the partnership is dedicated to working together to understand the problem and to collectively find solutions to reduce the incidence of these cases.

Fishermen work alongside these amazing creatures every day, and so it is incredibly distressing for them to find an animal entangled. Not to mention the economic cost to them – due to loss or damage of gear. These scenarios also expose fishermen and disentanglement teams to danger, as a result of trying to free entangled animals. The Trust was deeply saddened to hear about the tragic loss of Joe Howlett, a Canadian creel fisherman and very experienced whale rescuer, who died on Monday whilst rescuing an endangered whale tangled in fishing lines in New Brunswick.

The Scottish Creel Fishermen's Federation said, "Sadly we sometimes encounter animals entangled in fishing gear. As an organisation we take this seriously and want to do our best to minimise the risk of this happening and to have advice for what to do in response if and when such incidents do occur."

"We wish to promote working towards methods and practices that best ensure the safety of these animals that we are lucky to work alongside, whilst looking for solutions to potential issues that might arise when we strive to make a living in the same waters that these animals live."

Further information on the entanglement partnership and electronic copies of the information keyring booklet can be found on the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation website.