Since 1979 a marine animal release program has operated in Newfoundland. This program responds to calls from fishermen and other individuals concerning accidental entrapments in fishing gear of large marine animals such as whales, leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriaca) and basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus). From 1979 through 1998 the program was run by Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Whale Research Group. The Canadian Coast Guard ran the program in 1999 with assistance from Jon Lien, and in 2000 under the direction of Wayne Ledwell. The current coordinators, the independent Whale Release and Strandings Group, were incorporated and have run the program since 2001.
Since 1979, the overarching program objectives have been:
(1) to assist fishermen in the release of whales and other large marine animals from fishing gear, thereby decreasing fishing downtime and damage to their gear;
(2) to release entrapped animals as quickly and safely as possible;
(3) to collect information from fishermen and communities about marine animals which inhabit the waters around them, and
(4) to add to scientific knowledge on these species in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.
The program was designed and developed to cater to the needs of over 800 fishing communities along more than 17,000km of coastline (Lien, 1980). Entrapments in fishing gear and strandings of marine animals are reported to the Whale Release and Strandings Program by calling an advertised toll-free number. A trained release team responds by providing advice or sending expert personnel with specialized gear to the site to provide assistance. The goal of each such entrapment response is the safe, clean release of the animals while minimizing damage to the fishing gear and retrieval of the gear.Over the year, the program has been successful in reducing whale mortality, gear loss and loss of fishing downtime (Lien, 1995). Results of reported entrapments from 1979 to 2007 are summarised by Lien (1994), Lien et al (1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996; unsubmitted reports 1997, 1998, 1999), Ledwell et al (2000, 2001), Ledwell and Huntington (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007; unpublished reports).
Funding and connection to Department of Fisheries and Oceans
The Whale Release and Strandings Group is authorized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as the responsible group in Newfoundland and Labrador for handling and disentangling cetaceans and sea turtles caught in fishing gear or stranded on our coastline.
Financial support for disentanglement work comes from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Financial support for strandings and marine educational has been obtained from Shell Canada, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Esso Imperial Oil Foundation, Youth Eco Internship and corporate donors.
Whale Release and Strandings
244 Tolt Road
Portugal Cove - St. Philip's NL
Toll-free: (888) 895-3003