For the past three decades (1979-present), entanglements of large whales in commercial fisheries have been recorded along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, as part of a program intended to release captured animals and reduce costs to fishers.


Between 1979 and 2008, 1,209 large whale entanglements were recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador waters. Species involved include humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae; 80%) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata; 15%), with other species being reported very occasionally. Approximately 4% of entanglements could not be identified to species, particularly when whales were spotted at sea towing fishing gear.

        Scientific papers dealing with entanglements and strandings


Wayne Ledwell, of Whale Release and Strandings, releases a humpback whale from fishing gear.

Bay de Verde (2008)

Snow crab rope from Humpback whale, Placentia, 2007

Humpback entangled in  gear, South East Bight, 2008

Releasing a humpback calf from snow crab gear, 2008

Releasing Minke Whale from gear, Wild Bight, 2007  

First encounters with gear entangled whales often look like the photograph at right. Closer examination almost always uncovers a more severe entanglement. Whales are often caught through the mouth and around the tail stock, fins or both. There is often a large mass of unseen gear underneath the whale.

Gear, such as the snow crab rope in the photograph at right, is often retrieved from whale entanglements. Often floats, crab pots, gillnets or anchors will also be attached to the rope.

Situations where a calf is entangled in gear with the cow attending it are difficult and potentially dangerous entanglements. Disentangling the calf requires a great deal of patience and skill.

Minke whales are the second most common large whale entangled in fishing gear in our waters. Although smaller than humpbacks they are still a large, wild ensnared animal and great caution must be exercised in making sure the animal is released gear free. As in most entanglements of large whales, the majority are entangled through the mouth and around the tail and or fins at the same time.

A humpback whale entangled and being released from snow crab crab gear, Bay de Verde, NL. (2006)

A humpback whale being released from gillnets near Grand Beach, Fortune Bay, NL. (2006)

Determining how the humpback whale is entangled, Downing Basin, Grand Banks, NL. (2006)

A humpback whale entangled in cod gillnet and haul up rope near South East Bight, NL. (2008)

A humpback whale is released from a mackerel trap, white Bay NL. (2008)

Under all of this fishing gear is a humpback whale, which has dragged 6 fleets of cod gillnets together. South East Bight, Placentia Bay, NL. (2008).

Releasing a minke whale that is engtangled in flounder nets, Quirpoon, Northern Peninsula, NL. (2009)

A minke whale being released from herring nets Belleview Trinity Bay, NL. (2005)

Releasing a humpback whale in the fog, Grand Banks, NL (2006).

Releasing a humpback whale from Toad crab gear, St. Lewis, Labrador (2005).

A humpback whale entrapped in a mackerel trap, Westport, White Bay, NL (2008).

Releasing a humpback whale from a herring net, Southern Harbour, Placentia Bay, NL (March, 2011).

Photo credit: Len Picco

MARINE MAMMAL SCIENCE, 00(00): 1–23 (2011)

© 2011 by the Society for Marine Mammalogy

DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2011.00511.x