Ed Lyman in nothing if he is not a humble man. At the beginning of this clinic he wanted to make sure he was not introduced by the sponsors as an “expert” on whale disentanglement. He was more interested in letting people know that while there are probably no real experts in the relatively young world of whale disentanglement there is a very successful protocol that Ed has helped to pioneer and develop with his friend and cohort Dave Matila. The whale disentanglement network was started in 2002 at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and is a community based affair which operates under the umbrella of the larger Pacific Islands Marine Mammal Response Network. Which is basically a division of NOAA.
How many whales has Ed helped disentangle? I was almost embarrassed to ask but I just was dying to know. Ed said, “around 50 or 60 whales”, he couldn’t remember the exact number. I reckon that when you have done that many it is easy to loose count and perhaps a less humble individual might be able to give an exact number. I suppose the stat itself in Ed’s mind is less important than the how to do it right with out getting killed part. Yes people have died trying to disentangle whales, I actually know someone here in San Carlos who almost bit the dust working on a sperm whale. For obvious reasons approaching a stressed out 40 ton animal with a bunch of nets and lines hanging off it can be a very dangerous affair in deed.
Please do remember times have changed so please do as we say and not as we did; Do not get in the water with large whales to disentangle them!
I suspect the reason I was invited to this advanced whale disentanglement clinic in La Paz is because technically I have done it wrong on several occasions. Three to be exact! I ‘m not nearly as humble as Ed, I can remember exactly the number of whales I have liberated from gill nets in the Sea of Cortes and in my defense the male sperm whale we disentangled in the picture above was so exhausted it could barely move and represented little danger to myself and the videographer Carl Bunn. My interest in whale disentanglement was recently aroused once again at the beginning of March of last year when a juvenile humpback whale was reported to be entangled in a net off of Tortuga Island, about 50 nautical miles west of San Carlos. It was through that humpback entanglement that I learned of the Rabenmexico.org network and the excellent work Astrid Frisch has done in regards to organizing whale disentanglement in Mexico. Conversely I then learned that there was a very detailed protocol that one could follow in order to reduce the risk to those who try to disentangle a large whale.
After learning about the Raben network I thought it would be great to have the network represented here at WorldsAquarium home base in San Carlos. Raben has limited funding so San Carlos will have to wait a while before we get a Raben team of our own here but Astrid was kind enough to take pity on us and invite me to the workshop. The vast majority if not all of the rest of the country deals with humpback and grey whales that are almost always very close to shore and logistically easier to locate. Whale entanglements in the San Carlos area are far different than other parts on the west coast Mexico in two major ways.
It is for these reasons that we feel a team that would have to respond from another location in Mexico to the San Carlos area would pose great logistical problems and increased cost with a low chance of success. The juvenile humpback whale entanglement at Isla Tortuga that WorldsAquarium reported last March is a good example of the real challenge whale entanglements in the mid gulf region of the Sea of Cortes pose. Here is why. On the 8th of March I sent a mass email out to all my contacts and on Facebook regarding this humpback. The response was excellent and almost immediate. Raben ,was informed very quickly and formed a very fast response. Two teams from Guerrero Negro actually responded to this event. The only issue is that the teams that responded never actually were put in touch with those who reported the event and I am sure never saw the original email. These teams who I spoke with did not realize that the information that they acted on was already at least 5 days old and surely this whale was now no longer anywhere near Isla Tortuga by the time they got there. Thus a fair amount of time energy and resources were invested on this event response with a low chance of success. It would have been highly advantageous if the Raben teams that responded would have had access to the original person who reported the event. In future events if a team from far away has to respond to a report then it might be a good idea to put in the protocol that someone from the Raben response team try to contact directly the person or persons from San Carlos who are reporting the event. Another challenge to this particular event is that the net entangling this whale was not easily visible as can be seen in the picture above. In this picture of the whale, with the east side of Isla Tortuga in the background, it is very difficult to actually see the net. In the end this whale was disentangled by a team in La Paz.
So once again thanks to Ed, Astrid and Raben for sponsoring another great clinic down in La Paz! Below are some pictures from the clinic and at a later date when time permits I will post a short video of the clinic with a little more information on the protocol itself.