Marine mammals around the globe run the risk of coming into contact with marine debris and lost or active fishing gear. Marine debris includes a wide variety of materials that have been lost to storm and tide or have been disposed of improperly. Generally, actively fished, fixed fishing gear like gill nets and lobster pots are anchored in a given spot and retrieved or harvested soon after. During this short period, there are opportunities for species not targeted by fishers to be caught accidentally. Depending on the habitat and the season, this includes many species of fish, sea turtles, birds and marine mammals.
When these animals become fouled in gear, normal breathing and movement may be impaired or stopped completely. If the animal does manage to struggle free, portions of gear may remain attached to the body. This trailing gear, often made of durable synthetic material, may create excess drag, snag onto objects in the environment and impede normal behavior like breathing, feeding, movement or breeding. Other effects include infections and deformations.
The fishing community, along with government agencies and conservation groups, has formed gear modification teams to find solutions to the initial problem of entanglement. PCCS clearly recognizes that the whale rescue program is not a conservation strategy- keeping whales from becoming entangled is the long-term goal. For the interim, the whale rescue team provides a necessary, emergency service. Without more research it is difficult to say just how many animals are affected globally and locally. Inversely, we do not know how many animals survive such encounters without help. PCCS researchers are looking into this question.