New Oceana “Whales in Crisis” PSA Campaign Featuring Cobie Smulders Calls for Saving Whales from Deadly Fishing Gear Entanglements off US West Coast  - Oceana

New Oceana “Whales in Crisis” PSA Campaign Featuring Cobie Smulders Calls for Saving Whales from Deadly Fishing Gear Entanglements off US West Coast 

Footage highlights whale severely entangled in fishing line from California’s lucrative Dungeness crab fishery

Press Release Date: March 13, 2024

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Contact:

Gillian Spolarich, Ashley Blacow | email: gspolarich@oceana.org, ablacow@oceana.org
202-467-1909, Ashley Blacow

Oceana launched a new “Whales in Crisis” public service announcement (PSA) campaign today featuring actress Cobie Smulders that calls on decision-makers to do more to save whales from deadly entanglements in fishing gear off the West Coast of the United States.  

“Once caught, these whales struggle to eat and even reach the surface to breathe,” Smulders says in the PSA. “The lines cut into their flesh leading to life threatening infection and disease. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Help Oceana save whales in crisis. Together we can ensure these majestic creatures swim free.”   

Entanglement in fishing gear is a top threat to endangered animals off the West Coast, including humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles. While most of these deadly entanglements go undetected, 27 whales were confirmed entangled in fishing gear off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington in 2023, five of which were humpback whales entangled in California commercial Dungeness crab gear.    

Among the animals impacted by these fisheries is the severely entangled humpback whale featured in Oceana’s new “Whales in Crisis” campaign. Underwater photographer Alvaro Herrero encountered the whale off the coast of Baja California last November. 

Herrero vividly remembers the interaction. “The whale was looking at me with sadness in its eyes like ‘why me, why this,’” said Herrero. “The whale was covered in millions of sea lice, its spine was bent, and its tail was rotting off, the smell was immense. This image represents what we’re doing to the oceans. I hope it’s a wakeup call.”   

While Herrero’s colleagues were able to free the whale from the fishing line wound tightly around its tail, the whale’s injuries were deadly. Based on information retrieved from the gear tag, the National Marine Fisheries Service confirmed that the entanglement was the result of fishing lines from the lucrative California commercial Dungeness crab fishery. According to government estimates, roughly 75% of reported whale entanglements result in death.  

“This image shows the sad reality of what it’s like for whales when they become entangled in fishing lines off our coasts,” said Dr. Geoff Shester, California Campaign Director and Senior Scientist at Oceana. “Once entangled, these whales can drag heavy lines and gear for weeks — if not months — before they fall victim to their wounds. There’s an innovative solution that allows fishers to catch Dungeness crab in the spring months that also protects whales and sea turtles by removing the threat of vertical fishing lines — ropeless fishing gear.” 

While efforts have been made to reduce harm and injury to wildlife by closing fishing zones and reducing the amount of gear in the water, the number of entanglements is still far above the level allowed under federal law. Oceana is pushing for stronger regulations to further reduce these entanglements, including stricter closures to vertical line gear, comprehensive line marking, and new measures to prevent lost fishing gear.   

Last month, Oceana applauded the California Ocean Protection Council for authorizing new funding that invests in ropeless (also called “pop-up” or “on-demand”) technology for the state’s commercial Dungeness crab fishery. Oceana looks forward to continuing to work with fishers, gear manufacturers, fishery managers, and enforcement officers on large-scale testing and authorization of ropeless gear for use in future spring months when waters are closed to conventional gear to avoid whale and sea turtle entanglements. As we make great strides with “whale-safe” ropeless gear, Oceana is urging California, Oregon, and Washington to enact stronger protections when conventional fishing gear is used to provide whales and sea turtles with safe passage as they swim and feed off the West Coast.  

The PSAs and other information are available at Oceana.org/WhalesInCrisis

About Oceana 

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization dedicated solely to ocean conservation. Oceana is rebuilding abundant and biodiverse oceans by winning science-based policies in countries that control one-quarter of the world’s wild fish catch. With more than 300 victories that stop overfishing, habitat destruction, oil and plastic pollution, and the killing of threatened species like turtles, whales, and sharks, Oceana’s campaigns are delivering results. A restored ocean means that 1 billion people can enjoy a healthy seafood meal, every day, forever. Together, we can save the oceans and help feed the world. Visit Oceana.org to learn more.