Massachusetts coastal waters are home to endangered marine animals including sea turtles and whales. Entanglement in marine debris and fishing gear such as rope, netting, and hooks are leading causes of serious injury and mortality for these animals. The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies (PCCS) ask all boaters to immediately report sightings of entangled marine animals, alive or dead, by calling the Marine Animal Entanglement Hotline at 1-800-900-3622 or 866-755-NOAA or by hailing the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. An entanglement response team at PCCS is on-call and committed to providing safe and effective disentanglement of marine animals in the waters off Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.

What else can a boat operator do? Though your first instinct may be to try and free the animal, entanglement experts strongly urge you to resist the understandably natural impulse to assist the animal. Safety is a serious concern as disentanglement attempts by untrained people can be detrimental to the animal and result in serious injury to those involved. Cutting ropes or gear on your own may also cause problems for the entangled animal or create future entanglement issues for marine animals swimming through drifting lines or gear. Finally, boaters do not have the legal authority to perform disentanglements or touch another person’s fishing gear. Sea turtles and most large whales are protected endangered species and it is illegal to handle them without a permit.

The following tips are offered by the partnering agencies for anyone encountering an entangled marine animal:

  • Report the entanglement sighting immediately. Don’t wait until you get back to land.
  • Do NOT touch the animal or the entangled gear.
  • Maintain a safe distance from the animal in trouble.
  • Record the time and coordinates of the animal’s location.
  • Be alert for trailing lines which may foul props.
  • Be prepared to stand by until responders arrive.
  • Note the appearance of the animal and type of entangling gear.
  • If at all possible, photograph or video the sighting from a safe distance.

In addition, operators of all vessels at sea are reminded to secure trash, gear, and other items that may be mistaken for food by marine animals or cause entanglements. Harbormasters, marinas, sporting groups, and marine supply stores are encouraged to share the above information and hotline number with others in order to make the boating public aware of the safest and most effective way to assist entangled marine animals. For further information, contact Scott Landry of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies at sclandry@coastalstudies.org or call him at (508) 487-3623 x102.

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