Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 23, 2018

Contact:  Catherine Kilduff, (530) 304-7258,

Report: Frequent West Coast Whale Entanglements Continued Through 2017

California Dungeness Crab Commercial Fishery Remained Most Common Culprit

SAN FRANCISCO— The National Marine Fisheries Service today reported that at least 31 whales were confirmed entangled off the West Coast in 2017, triple the annual average number from before 2014. For the third year in a row, the most common fishing gear identified on whales came from California Dungeness crab commercial traps.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the California Department of Fish and Wildlife over the issue in October. That lawsuit is pending.

“California fishery managers have failed to meaningfully address the problem of whale entanglements. Too many whales are still being killed and injured in crab lines,” said Catherine Kilduff at the Center. “We’re seeing whales without tails and whales hauling gear for hundreds of miles, and still state officials refuse to take action.”

Media has reported an unusually high number of sightings in 2018 of gray whales without “flukes,” or fins at the ends of their tails, which scientists attribute to fishing gear entanglements. This week, officials concluded a whale found just outside San Francisco Bay and another one in Washington each died from fishing gear entanglements. In 2014 a severed pair of flukes of a humpback whale were found in Southern California, wrapped in gear from two California Dungeness crab commercial traps.

“The science shows that endangered blue and humpback whales can’t recover if entanglements stay this high,” said Kilduff. “The California Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to prevent the damage happening to these amazing animals on its watch and make immediate changes.”

Entanglements in ropes connected to heavy commercial Dungeness crab traps cause injuries and death as the ropes cut into the whales’ flesh, sap their strength and lead to drowning. Each entanglement of a humpback whale, blue whale or leatherback sea turtle violates the federal Endangered Species Act. The state is liable for causing these unlawful entanglements because it authorizes and manages operation of the fishery.

West Coast whale entanglements have broken records in recent years. There were 48 confirmed whale entanglements in 2016,and 50 in 2015. There were 30 reported entanglements in 2014. Before that, whale entanglement reports averaged fewer than 10 per year. The number of whale deaths is likely much larger because many whales killed by entanglement are never found.

The latest report says just three whales were fully disentangled by rescuers last year, demonstrating the need for better prevention. It also noted that California crab gear was found on an entangled humpback in Mexico for the second year in a row, and that Washington crab gear was found on entangled humpback in California last year.

Many entanglements are clustered around the biologically rich Monterey Bay, where migrating whales came to feed. The California commercial Dungeness crab-trap fishery entangles more endangered whales and sea turtles than any other U.S. West Coast fishery.

The Center’s lawsuit seeks common-sense reforms to the fishery, such as restricting the amount of gear in whale hot spots like Monterey Bay or reducing the amount of rope running through the water. Elevated entanglements in 2014 prompted conservation groups to urge California fishery managers to institute reforms.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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