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Together for the ocean – World Ocean Day 2024

Julia Pix

Julia Pix

Julia Pix is WDC’s head of engagement. She delivers our public campaigns and supporter communications.

More than 300,000 whales and dolphins die in fishing gear each year. We’re working around the world to make our seas safer for these awesome beings, and you can help us. Between 1st -15th June we’ll be celebrating World Ocean Day, shining a light on entanglement and sharing ways you can help us protect whales, dolphins and their ocean home.

You are part of a global movement collectively striving for a world where every whale and dolphin is safe and free. Here at WDC, we spend our working lives doing everything we can to make that vision a reality, but we certainly don’t do it alone. We are proud to support a diverse and growing movement of changemakers who are contributing in very different ways to the same goal. This movement is powerful. It includes writers, philanthropists, businesspeople, streamers, influencers, games developers and players, artists, thinkers, activists and you, our brilliant supporters – the people who enable us to do what we do.

Here are just a few of the amazing people who are supporting our efforts to protect whales, dolphins and the ocean:

Our community inspires us every day, but there’s one day in particular when we bring everyone together to celebrate: 8th June, World Ocean Day. The ocean covers almost three-quarters of our blue planet and is home to an incredible abundance of life, including most of the 90 or so species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. But for all its beauty, the ocean can be a dangerous place for whales and dolphins, and to save them, we need to protect their home.

Porpoise dies after becoming entangled in fishing net
© Nick Davison

Can you help make the seas safe for whales and dolphins?

Entanglement in fishing gear – ‘bycatch’, as it’s known – is the biggest threat whales and dolphins face. Many hundreds of thousands die in nets or get tangled up in fishing gear every year. It’s a horrible way to die. As air-breathing mammals, when they get trapped in a net, panic can take over and they can sustain terrible injuries before either escaping or suffocating. For a whale tangled in fishing rope, death can be drawn out and painful as they can carry it with them for days, weeks or even months, slowing their movement and inhibiting their ability to feed. It is a massive problem, so we are working on some big solutions.

What this workshop and the SEA project is working to minimise – a deceased juvenile male humpback whale stranded near Dunbar after becoming entangled in creel fishing gear
A deceased juvenile humpback whale stranded near Dunbar entangled in creel fishing gear. Image: East Lothian Countryside Rangers

What we’re doing for the ocean

We know that no fisher wants to catch a whale or dolphin in their nets or ropes so it’s really important to work with them to find solutions that work for people and the planet.

In Scotland, we have just concluded a multi-year project working with creel fishers to trial and introduce sinking lines. These are the ropes that connect the pots used to catch crabs, prawns and lobsters, and also to secure them together and haul them up from the seabed. Traditionally these lines float, forming large arches in the water between the pots, posing a massive entanglement risk to passing whales. It is estimated that an average of six humpback whales, 30 minke whales, and 29 basking sharks become entangled annually in Scottish waters. By using lines that sink, rather than float, we will vastly reduce this risk to these awesome beings.

 

This humpback died after becoming tangled up in fishing gear in Scotland © James Appleton
Bally with sinking rope lines

Our trials with creel fishers in Scotland using this lifesaving rope proved successful and we hope to roll it out internationally. © James Appleton

North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered of all the whale species. They’re our climate allies and with fewer than 340 remaining, they need urgent action to prevent their extinction. Entanglement is a big threat to these whales and so we are working hard on a number of fronts to reduce this risk, including with partners and fishers to test alternative fishing gear. We have been appointed by the US government to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team, a federal stakeholder group working to protect right whales.

We need right whales to survive - our future depends on it. © Sea to Shore Alliance, taken under NOAA research permit 20556
We need right whales to survive - our future depends on it. © Sea to Shore Alliance, taken under NOAA research permit 20556

In Hong Kong we’re supporting local community efforts and working with fishers to save the remaining 200 Indo-Pacific finless porpoises from extinction due to bycatch. Together we’re identifying areas where the fisheries and porpoises overlap to build maps which will enable them to avoid fishing in areas that are important for these porpoises whilst still enabling the fishers to earn a living.

Group of indo-pacific finless porpoises
An average of 29 Indo-Pacific finless porpoises are dying per year, and we're working hard to save them. © SEAMAR

Together with our friends and colleagues at other charities, we have developed a recovery plan for the Baltic Proper harbour porpoise population in the Central Baltic Sea in the waters of Sweden and Poland. This group is in very real danger of extinction due to fishing nets and other threats. But there is now hope. We’ve worked at the highest levels to introduce protection measures and evaluated the use of ‘pingers’. These devices make a noise to alert porpoises and help them avoid getting caught in fishing gear – like a warning signal to keep them safe.

Leaping harbour porpoise
In February, we helped secured the highest level of protection for these little guys! © Chrys Mellor

What we hope to do for the ocean

These projects are saving lives, but we know there’s even more we can do to prevent whales and dolphins dying in fishing gear around the world.  Sri Lanka is home to many species of whales, dolphins and porpoises as well as a myriad of other sensitive marine species like sea turtles that are vulnerable to entanglement in gillnets – these are nets that hang in the water like a wall. We hope to collaborate with Sri Lankan artisanal tuna fisheries that use gillnets to trial new gear types and reduce the impact their fishing has on marine life, while still enabling them to earn their living.

Fishing boat in Sri Lanka
Gillnet on the shore in Sri Lanka

Can you help us launch this new project to save even more whales and dolphins?

What you can do for the ocean

Our work to save whales and dolphins from becoming entangled in fishing nets and ropes is powered by inspiring people working together for the ocean: those out on the water, or in the research lab, or at intergovernmental meetings where decisions are made, and those raising money and awareness to allow the projects to happen. This World Ocean Day we’re celebrating all these individuals because this global movement creates change – and you are a crucial part of it. Without your support, these projects would not be possible.

Please help us today with a donation

If you are able to help, every gift, whether large or small, will help us prevent whales and dolphins dying in fishing gear.