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Status of Large Whale Entanglement Response Operations in the U.S. Following Recent Human Fatality in Canada

NOAA Fisheries was very saddened to learn of the accidental death of a Canadian marine mammal rescue responder on July 10, 2017 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, during an emergency response operation to save a North Atlantic right whale entangled in fishing gear.  Mr. Joe Howlett was a long-time member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team and was a very skilled responder and fisherman.  Most recently, he played a critical role in successfully freeing an entangled right whale on July 5, 2017. We extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Because ensuring the safety of responders is of paramount importance, as of July 11, 2017, NOAA Fisheries is temporarily suspending all emergency response activities for entangled large whales nationwide in the United States, so that we can review our emergency response protocols in light of this tragic event.

NOAA Fisheries and our partners will continue to provide all other stranding response services to marine mammals (whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions), or sea turtles in distress. Responding to stranded, entangled or otherwise distressed marine animals has inherent risks and should only be attempted by specially trained and authorized experts. Members of the general public should never attempt to rescue a stranded or entangled marine animal. If you find a marine animal in distress, please contact your local stranding network response organization.

Update - July 14, 2017

Members of the Large Whale Disentanglement Network are allowed to visually assess and document entangled large whales from a safe distance, but cannot closely approach the animals or attempt to remove entangling gear until we complete our review of all safety protocols and procedures.

Update - July 18, 2017

Members of the Large Whale Disentanglement Network are being provided additional training to emphasize key safety and other protocol measures.  Once individuals have completed this online training, they are authorized to conduct entanglement response for all species of large whales except right whales, and must be in close coordination with NOAA Fisheries experts.  Authorization for entanglement response to right whales will be considered on a case-by cases basis depending on the circumstances and availability of Level 5 responders.

Update - August 24, 2017

The majority of Large Whale Disentanglement Network responders received additional training, and the network is back to nearly full capacity with a renewed emphasis on safety and working in close coordination with NOAA Fisheries. Any previously authorized responder who still needs to complete the training can request access to an online version of the training  via email. Authorization for right whale response continues on a case-by-case basis.

Last Updated: August 24, 2017