Spotlight on bycatch in the lead up to ORCA’s SOEC

5th Dec 2017

Whale and dolphin entanglement in fishing gear (known as bycatch) is a tragic and heart-breaking result of our rampant industrialisation of the ocean.

Marine mammals can get caught in lines and nets as they pursue the very prey that fishing equipment is set to catch, with thousands each year killed around the UK alone.

Smaller cetaceans, such as porpoises and dolphins, are killed in large numbers and, due to the limited requirements for most vessels to report bycatch, the scale of the issue is poorly understood.

Larger whales too are at risk, with kreel lines in particular representing a significant danger, particularly as larger whales are being seen closer and closer to shore in recent years.

Humpback whales in particular have been seen recently to be at major risk, with a humpback death in Australia in September attributed to fishing gear dragged 1700km from Tasmania. The animal was cut free but was so exhausted by the extra weight that it didn't survive, and examples such as this are tantamount to the animals slowly drowning over a period of months.

UK whales and dolphins are often found stranded showing signs of entanglement. Around half of minke whales found stranded, for example, have shown signs of being caught in fishing gear, and recent UK reports to the EU estimate that 1200-1500 harbour porpoises alone were caught in fishing nets in 2015.

ORCA's The State of European Cetaceans 2017 report aims to showcase the cruel and tragic fate many cetaceans face when they are victims of bycatch, and we continue to work with partner organisations to encourage government to take action to reduce the number of preventable cetacean deaths around the UK.