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Government of Western Australia - Department of Fisheries
Three humpback whales surfacing

​A pod of humpback whales rises to the surface during their migration along the WA coast.

Thursday 7 September 2017

Safer passage for migrating whales

​Commercial rock lobster fishers have adopted changes to their fishing gear to reduce the likelihood of whales being entangled.

Fisheries scientists and the western rock lobster industry have completed a world-first project to give migrating humpback whales a safer passage through lobster fishing grounds.

Every year between May and October, humpback whales travel northwards from their Antarctic feeding grounds to mate and calve in the warm waters of WA’s north, then return southwards at a more leisurely pace with their new calves.

When the western rock lobster fishery moved to quota management and year-round fishing, there was an increased risk of more of the rapidly expanding whale population being entangled in lobster pot ropes, so Fisheries scientists looked for a solution other than a fishery closure during the five-month whale migration.

Lobster fishers were surveyed about their fishing gear, and our researchers then tested various cost-effective modifications to make it less likely to entangle a whale.

Gear changes should make entanglement by whales much rarer.

Since 2014, lobster fishers dropping pots in waters deeper than 20 metres between May and October have adopted simple gear modifications such as weighted ropes, fewer floats and less rope. This eliminates rope floating on the surface, which whales may catch with their flippers or tail and become entangled.

These measures have resulted in a dramatic reduction in reported entanglements with rock lobster gear − from 17 in 2013 to 4 in 2016. They may also solve a similar problem faced by other pot fisheries, such as crab and octopus, which intersect with whale migrations elsewhere in the world.

Locally, commercial octopus fishers have adopted the gear modifications and no whale entanglements in octopus fishing gear were reported last year.

Our scientists continue to look for effective ways to further reduce the incidence of whales becoming entangled.

Please report any sick or injured whales to the Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055. 

Last modified: 7/09/2017 1:22 PM

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