Center for Coastal Studies Provincetown
I am writing in response to the invitation to apply for a grant from the Pegasus Foundation amounting to $27,500.00, to support the work of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Program (MAER) at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS). This assistance would enhance our shared goals of helping entangled whales and sea turtles, locally and internationally. As we mark the 30th anniversary this week of disentangling the humpback whale Ibis, on Thanksgiving Day in 1984, it is clear that a large number of whales and sea turtles that have been disentangled since that time would not have received that help without the generous support of friends such as the Pegasus Foundation.
Support from the Pegasus Foundation was critical in 2014. Especially in li!!ht of the continuing decline in federal aid and the increasing need of whale and sea turtle populations. Support in the coming year will be just as critical. On-water responses within the Gulf of Maine by the MAER team continue to increase from year to year and requests for entanglement response training and equipment are on the rise as more countries come to grip with the extent of the entanglement problem.
Besides directly responding to entangled whales and sea turtles within the southern Gulf of Maine, the MAER program has invested much time and effort to develop and train entanglement response networks globally. In addition to the develooment of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network (from Florida to the Bav of Fundv). this has included intensive trainings for teams from and/or assemblv and deliverv of eauioment caches to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, British Columbia, the Caribbean, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Mexico. South Africa and the UK. In partnership with national governments and local NGO’s. CCS will continue this capacity building activity as much as time and funding!! allow. until anv and all nations that encounter entangled marine animals in their waters are equipped and trained to help them.
The results of these efforts cannot be underestimated even if difficult to track: dozens of humpback whales off Western Australia have been disentangled, many right and humpback whales off both coasts of South Africa have received the help they needed and humpbacks breeding off the Pacific coast of Mexico are now safely in the hands of an organized and equipped network of responders – and all of these examples were accomplished with no significant human injuries. It is difficult to quantify the amount of time and effort these examples involved other than to say it has been painstaking and persistent. The Pegasus Foundation has provided a consistent cornerstone for this work, a legacy that will grow as responders around the world continue to help entangled whales.
In 2014 the MAER team concentrated on two primary efforts: responding to reports of entangled whales and sea turtles off southern New England and capacity building for teams in nations that now recognize the threat of entanglement to whale populations. Despite the small size of the MAER team (three full-time and two part-time responders) success on both fronts was achieved.
One of the greatest challenges to disentangling whales and sea turtles is extremely elemental: finding an entangled marine animal in the vastness of the ocean. The MAER team spends a large proportion of its time conducting outreach to mariners (including the fishing community, recreational boaters, whale watches, researchers and the military) to solicit sightings of entangled animals. The on-water distribution of these people, overlapped with the constantly-changing distribution of whales and sea turtles, means that the number and distribution of entanglement reports vary widely from year to year and place to place. To help increase the odds of finding an entangled animal in time, the MAER team dramatically increased the number of days it spent at sea. In 2014 the team was ar sea on nearly every good weather day, partnering with ongoing CCS humpback and ri!!ht whale research efforts. This sea time allowed for the monitoring of previously disentangled whales, increased MAER’ s visibility within the mariner community, and decreased response time to entangled whales and sea turtles.
As part of ongoing work to help build the capacity of responders internationally, MAER provided tools and/or training for teams from British Columbia, the Dominican Republic, Hawaii. Mexico and Newfoundland. In the spring of2014 the MAER team travelled to Oaxaca. Mexico to conduct an intensive entanglement response training for local NGO’s and the Mexican Navy. This was part of a long-term effort to help humpback and gray whales that mi!!rate to the winterin!! !!rounds of the Pacific Coast. MAER has been nartnerin!! with local NGO’s there for nearly a decade and this training, in the southernmost state hosting whales off Mexico, helps to complete what has become one of the best-organized response areas in the world. With teams now trained and eouiooed from
Baja California to Oaxaca, whales entangled locally or carrying gear from their northern feeding grounds, now have a much better chance of receivirnz the helo thev need. Just as imoortant. these teams now have the benefit of the thirty years worth of experience, shared by CCS. The safety to both whales and responders has been greatly enhanced.
In the comin!! vear the MAER team will keep up its commitment to the whales and sea turtles off New England while continuing its effort to help whales and sea turtles wherever these animals overlap with fishing gear and marine debris, which occurs virtually worldwide. CCS is now beginning planning for the Whale Entanglement Response Expert Group, to be hosted here in Provincetown this sorinQ. in coniunction with the International Whaling Commission. While this latter effort will place a heavy staffing burden on the MAER team (especially in light of massively decreased federal support for this work) CCS is committed to enhancing human safety and animal welfare locally and in nations that manage endangered species and have a low level of support for such efforts. The main means of capacity building are training, through in-residence apprenticeships here in Provincetown and invitational workshops abroad, and distribution of specialized tools. These efforts build long-term relationships between response groups, and enhance the relationship between marine animals and people. Support from the Pegasus Foundation, as well as match contributors, would provide essential resources to aid whales and sea turtles found offshore of southern New England, while providing opportunities for responders, and the animals they care for, in nations that would otherwise find little support.
Background on the CCS Marine Animal Entanglement Response Program (MAER) MAER is a collaborative effort to understand the impacts of fisheries bycatch through direct mitigation. Over the last two decades this effort has freed over 200 whales, seals and sea turtles from life-threatening entanglements and contributed valuable data to the ongoing search for bycatch solutions (entanglement prevention or reduction). The disentanglement team in Provincetown is highly trained and equipped to safely respond to entanglement reports year round offshore of southern New England, a site with some of the highest entanglement sightings rates globally. The team conducts annual trainings, workshops and outreach along this coast, coordinating disentanglement responses involving federal and state agencies, the military and research groups. The response team has also hosted apprentices from select international agencies in an effort to train responders at key entanglement hotspots in Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe and Latin America.
The incidental capture of marine animals in fishing gear, including marine mammals and sea turtles, is now understood to be a problem of global significance and scope. As pressure on marine environments around the world increases and diversifies, immediate and long-term solutions are needed to decrease bycatch to sustainable levels. Until effective solutions are found, disentanglement that is safe for both humans and animals will remain a high priority. The CCS MAER team is recognized internationally for its safety record, scientific expertise, groundbreaking techniques, and high success rate. In the coming year, the program plans to: continue providing safe and effective response for entangled marine animals; to collect data during these responses to inform management needs and entanglement prevention, and to share this experience both regionally and internationally.
- To solicit reports of entangled marine animals and provide safe, effective entanglement response for whales and sea turtles;
- To collect information on the causes and impacts of entanglement with an eye to prevention;
- To build capacity both regionally and internationally that increases both human and animal safety during entanglement response.
- To directly respond to any and all reports of entangled whales and sea turtles within the southern Gulf of Maine;
- To conduct field research during responses to entanglements to increase knowledge about the causes, types and severity of different entanglements; and to promote whale-safe fishing methods;
- To increase public awareness and entanglement reporting through directed outreach sessions, lectures, e-mail & print newsletters;
- To provide sanctioned training opportunities to national and international collaborators through in-house apprenticeship sessions and targeted trainings in regions with known entanglement occurrence, and distribute tools to trained responders.
- Requested funding will be expended primarily for international training initiatives form May through December 201 5, specifically the first meeting of the Whale Entanglement
- Response Expert Group here in Provincetown this coming spring, and for support of ongoing operations to provide for as much sea time as possible.