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Not All Trapped Whales Are as Lucky as Those Freed Last Week, Say Marine Life Advocates

Footage of weekend gray whale rescue. Screenshot/YouTube.
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After two separate incidents involving whales tangled in fishing nets over the past week, advocates for our large mammalian friends want to seize the moment and point out that not all whale-net-entanglement stories have such happen endings.

Kurt Lieber of the Ocean Defenders Alliance told NBC Los Angeles that plenty of whales -- and sharks, and other sea creatures -- don't have the good fortune to be spotted by humans on rescue boats and cut free. The animals become trapped in nets left on the ocean floor by fisherman because they see prey already trapped there, and are then drowned when they're held under by the net.

“I don’t want to get emotional, but it’s heartbreaking,” Lieber told NBC.

Kelli Lewis, education director of the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, also told the AP that whales may suffer for a long time if they're trapped in nets.

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"Their movements and ability to see are so inhibited they get malnourished, and the netting chaffs their skin, and they get infections," she said. "By the time we find them, they have been suffering for some time. It's not uncommon for them to die as a result of entanglement."

Lieber added that fishermen are well aware of the fact that nets are on the ocean floor because there's no law preventing them from being left there, as they pose no harm to boats that far underwater. What Lieber proposes is this:

“The fishermen should be held responsible for their nets," he said. "At the beginning of the year, they should have the nets tagged and marked and identified. So when they lose them we know who is responsible for it...we would like to see them pay into a fund to get that gear removed.”

According to their website, the Oceans Defenders Alliance is dedicated to rescuing animals that are endangered by what they call "ghost gear." They have a fleet of boats that regularly scours the ocean and the ocean floor for creatures trapped in items left behind by people, then cuts them free.