Interactive Q&A on Marine Mammals and Debris Entanglement — Scott Landry, Lauri Jemison, and Sue Goodglick Will Answer Your Questions

Event Date: 
29 October 2013

In this interactive “Office Hour” chat, three experts on marine mammal entanglement and disentanglement took your questions:

  • Scott Landry is director of the Marine Animal Entanglement Response team at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts. Over the past 30 years, the Center has freed more than 100 large whales from life-threatening entanglements, as well as dozens of smaller cetaceans, seals, and other marine animals.
  • Lauri Jemison is a biologist who has studied pinnipeds in Alaska for the past 25 years, and worked since 1997 with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game’s Marine Mammal Program. She has studied sea lion entanglement in marine debris and ingestion of fishing gear for the past decade. Packing bands, used in the shipping and fishing industries, and large rubber bands, used for many purposes including holding crab pots closed, are two of the most common neck-entangling materials.
  • Sue Goodglick is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Steller sea lion research program and member of the multi-agency Pinniped Entanglement Group. As part of her job, she helps develop and disseminate outreach materials for the group's “Lose the Loop!” campaign, an effort to help reduce animal entanglements in marine debris.


Sue Goodglick: Hello everyone, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (in Anchorage, Alaska) I'm happy to be a part of the panel this morning.

Scott Landry: Hi all. I'm Scott Landry with the Marine Animal Entanglement Response Program at Center for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod, MA. We work on disentangling whales and sea turtles caught in marine debris and fishing gear. Thanks for joining us.

Lauri Jemison: Hi Folks, I'm here with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Juneau and will be happy to answer any questions on pinniped entanglements in marine debris.

Blake Rupe: Hello! What are some new and emerging technologies that you are seeing on the ground regarding marine debris? Have you seen an increase in public interest in this issue recently? Specifically post the japan tsunami?

Scott Landry: We are seeing great interest in entanglement but we are also seeing a fair amount of confusion: what is marine debris versus what is fishing gear.

Jamison: How do you determine if an animal is entangled in marine debris or if it acquired actively fished gear?

Scott Landry: In our region we have great difficulty differentiating between active versus lost gear. Much of the gear we can identify comes from fisheries. If it was lost or active prior to a whale becoming entangled is a very difficult distinction to make. We know of gear that had heavy biofouling but was actively fished right up to the point of the whale becoming entangled. When we removed the gear, most folks would have assumed it was marine debris.

Lauri Jemison: For pinnipeds in Alaska, we see animals that have fishing gear (e.g., lures, flashers) hanging from the edge of their mouth (indicating a swallowed line/hook/fish) and we consider that this animal has actively aquired the gear. A packing band around the neck, for example, would be entanglement in marine debris.

Bianca Unger: Pleasure to be here! Hope to get some ideas about how other countries cope with marine debris/ghost nets!

Sue Goodglick: Hi Bianca, thanks for your question. While I can't tell you what every government organization or non-profit organization is doing in America, one aspect of our program at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is to inform and educate the public about the presence of marine entanglements in debris (via Steller sea lion research).

Jamison: Hello all, thank you for taking the time to conduct this chat, I am really excited about the topic.

C. Teufel: Hello - thanks for taking the time to answer questions today. Are any of you familiar with incidents of marine mammal entanglement with lines, equipment, or debris associated with open ocean aquaculture?

Sue Goodglick: Hi there, in the last 4 years I have been working in this program, I have not heard of any marine mammals specifically getting entangled in ocean aquaculture projects.

Bianca Unger: Are there other reasons why whales, for example, get entangles apart from being curious about them (play) or confuse them with possible prey?

Sue Goodglick: I would imagine there are many reasons animals find themselves entangled in marine debris. Besides being curious, I would expect some animals are simply transiting (and unaware of the danger they are about to encounter) and get caught in the obstacle ahead.

Guest: How significant is the aquaculture industry as a source of entanglement events (of large whales in particular)?

Scott Landry: It's difficult to say. We do have a few cases of whales and sea turtles becoming entangled in aquaculture. In our region aquaculture is not as common as fishing gear. But, when it comes down to it, if the aquaculture is an architecture of rope, then it is logically going to pose some risk. From the point of view of a whale, rope is rope, no matter of the intended use.

Blake Rupe: Do you have any figures for how many animals (pinnipeds, whales, turtles, etc) die versus live a restrained life after entanglement in debris? Is there a high incidence rate for death?

Lauri Jemison: We really don't have that detailed information at this time. I've primarily worked with Steller sea lions and for that species in Alaska, we hope to eventually be able to estimate survival rates of entangled animals based on our sample of marked animals that become entangled. We hope to do that within the next ~year. We do photograph all entanglements then later try to match those animals from one year to the next. We know some sea lions can live a number of yrs with a neck entanglement - we had an adult female entangled in 2007 - we were still seeing and photographing her in 2012 (she had pups several of those years).

Macarena Cid: What mitigation measures proposed for reducing mortality and entanglements with fishing debris in marine mammals?

Scott Landry: Off the East Coast of the US, proposed modifications have often focussed on rope, which is the primary entangling material on whales and sea turtles (as opposed to nets per se and other plastics). The source of that rope, is generally fishing gear. But trying to fish without rope is a very difficult concept to deal with.

Blake Rupe: I am currently writing a MA thesis on the harm to coastal ecosystems from marine debris. Do you see more entanglements or ingestion in coastal shores? How do you go about gauging ingestion rates? Can it only be done post mortum?

Lauri Jemison: Within a year, we generally see similar numbers of animals that have ingested gear as those with neck entanglements. Please see Raum-Suryan et al. 2009 for estimating incidence of entanglement - folks have done this in different ways (a number of different papers out there that might be helpful). In AK, we rarely find pinnipeds that have died from gear ingestion and even less frequently from neck entanglements. It happens of course, but our shoreline is large and (human) population small.

Charla Basran: Hi Everyone. I am working on my master's thesis in Iceland on humpback whale entanglement and I am interested in knowing what the best management strategies for mitigation of entanglements are in your opinion?

Scott Landry: When pressed by fishermen we realized that reducing the amount of rope is likely the only way to truly end entanglement. Right now, many ideas work on how we can make the rope less lethal (like making the rope weak). But these methods are fraught with difficulty since we can't reasonably experiment with large whales - so how can we safely say what is the safest rope for whales? We can say that going ropeless cuts the risk down to zero but that's like saying you can drive a car but you can't use the tires.

Claire Bass: Hello, would be interested to hear if you could highlight any geographic hotspots for marine mammals entangled in ghost fishing gear, where mitigation measure are not already underway?

Scott Landry: Our research indicates that wherever rope (no matter its intended use)and whales overlap, there is going to be risk. The severity of the risk may be different in different areas.

Laura Ludwig: Here in New England, whale and sea turtle entanglements are often (if not usually) attributed to synthetic fishing gear (polypropylene, polyester, monofilament, other synthetic materials). I would be curious to know if any of the entanglements seen in AK involve any non-synthetic materials, e.g. sisal or hemp rope, cotton or linen twine -- or are pinnipeds also getting entangled in plastic primarily? Perhaps your fisheries involve more non-synthetic materials than ours do?

Lauri Jemison: Nearly all the entangling material that we are able to identify on Steller sea lions are synthetics - most common here are packing bands and black rubber bands. I've spoken to researchers who work on fur seals in the Pribilof Is. and my impression is that they also primarily see synthetic materials causing entanglements. Many neck entanglements are deeply embedded in the flesh/blubber and so in those cases we can't ID the entangling material.

Guest: Can you suggest any literature on measurement of policy success? e.g., decreased entanglement for marine mammals or turtles with implementation of coastal clean-ups, plastic bag bans, etc.?

Sue Goodglick: Hi, I have no idea if this has been studied in Alaska. I can ask around and see if I can find an answer for you. To follow up, please write me after the chat at our general mailbox at dfg.dwc.sealions [at]

Blake Rupe: What are some other dangers to seals exist besides debris collars?

Scott Landry: Gray seals around Cape Cod most commonly have collars of gillnet panel portions.

Bianca Unger: Scott, when you say, ropes are going to be made more weak, isn't it possible to make them self-disruptive after some time in water?

Scott Landry: That is one idea. But it's tricky. How long is a good time? Since we can't really experiment with large whales it's very difficult to make precise forecasts of how weak is weak enough.

Guest: Hi there. Many thanks for your participation on the panel! Marine renewable energy is a growing industry with many regulatory barriers due to uncertainty of potential environmental impacts. MRE devices will be tethered quite tightly with little to no slack in the mooring cables. I've not found any documented cases to date of a marine animals entangled in such cables (US or UK/EU), but am curious about possible secondary entanglement issues that might occur from derelict gear being caught on MRED cables. Are any of you aware of this risk, or potential studies that have looked into this?

Scott Landry: We have found a very few recorded instances of whales entangled in heavy cable (these are hard to find). We were interested in these cases because one gear modification idea was to make rope so stiff that it could not entangle whales (but could be fished). Obviously whales are strong enough to get entangled in VERY heavy gear.

Petra Mottishaw: Thanks for running this panel! what do the panelists think of some of the world trying "fishing for fishing nets" buy-back schemes where fishermen can sell the ghost nets that they've caught? Also what do you think of the WSPA call for making identifiable markers in lines so that entanglement material can be tracked back to the source?

Sue Goodglick: Hi Petra, While I can't speak for my agency, I personally think the buy-back program is a great plan. I think providing motivation for bringing gear back from the sea after it's been used for it's original purpose is ideal. In regards to the identifiable markers, it seems like a good way to help study where the source of some marine debris originates and perhaps motivate some people to be more careful with returning gear to the shore (whether they lose it in the first place or intentionally do not bring it back).

Bianca Unger: Are caples really a severe entanglement problem?

Laura Phillips: How significant do you think this problem is? i.e. does it have a significant impact on a population's ability to persist? Or is it really an impact at more of an individual or local level?

Scott Landry: We do think entanglement impacts whales at a population level. In North Atlantic right whales stock assessments indicate that we should take no more than .5 right whales a year to entanglements and ship strikes. We are consistently well above that every year.

Guest: Good Morning Scott, Lauri and Sue - Thanks for the office hour on this important topic. How are you finding levels of interest / involvement / action by localized fishing industry to mitigate against fishing gear + marine mammal entanglements?

Scott Landry: We have found that the fishing community is reasonably keen on trying to make their fisheries more sustainable. Admittedly it's just a tricky problem. It is also good to be aware that the other element besides whales and fishermen, are the consumers. As we demand more, fisheries will respond by diversifying and expanding. Again, this is why we need to develop mitigation methods: gear that can catch seafood without catching whales, seals and sea turtles.

Steven Benjamins: Have any of you ever had to deal with an entanglement involving chain (e.g. anchor chains or the like)? I am aware of one event involving a fin whale in Alaska, but am curious to see if there might be others.

Scott Landry: Hi Steven - I just came across a case of a right whale with heavy (relatively) chain, wrapped around its tailstock off Argentina.

Lauri Jemison: I am not aware of any entanglements involving chains with pinnipeds in Alaska.

Charla Basran: Scott, has there been any successes with trying to reduce the temporal or spatial overlap between fishing and large whale migration or feeding/breeding seasons? (obviously it doesn't help much if the gear is lost, but possibly for active gear)

Scott Landry: Yes, that has been a long running part of management here off the East Coast: trying to reduce or remove fishing gear from areas of high whale use. For example, closing much of Cape Cod Bay to fishing during right whale season. While this no doubt helps we still have entangled right whales. Essentially, the whales are so wideranging and the fishing effort is so diverse and widespread, it's hard to use this is as a management tool (I would argue). Essentially, we'd have to move fishing out of the way of whales across their range.

Macarena Cid: I wonder if there is any study of the impact (evaluation) for marine mammals? I speak of collateral damage or deeper) There are some assumptions that happens? Is there a global diagnosis, regional or associated with any fishing?

Scott Landry: Assessing which gear modifications have worked for whales, at least in this region, are ongoing, so it's probably too early to tell. I think it is a real challenge to assess these things at a local level, let alone at a global level.

C. Teufel: Apart from making ropes weaker and avoiding placing ropes in areas with heavy marine mammal use, are there other entanglement minimization strategies that you think would be successful? Thanks for answering my question.

Sue Goodglick: We'll, the PEG is helping to facilitate the development of a biodegradable packing band with a company in Georgia. The idea is that it will be useful in industry but dissolve (or at least, break apart - "Lose the Loop"- if it every finds its way into the sea. In a study in Southeast Alaska and northern B.C., packing bands were the #1 identifiable neck entanglement. Packing bands are those plastic bands found in the shipping industry and in all sorts of packaging. I challenge you to walk about your day and try NOT to find one packing band (on the street, wrapped around your new TV, around toys, etc) - they are everywhere!

Guest: Hello all! I would like to echo everyone by saying thank you for taking the time to do this panel. I was wondering, with large entangled pinnipeds who are highly aggressive what have you found is the best primary approach to the situation? How do you typically capture these animals to remove plastic rings? Chemical immobilization? Live trap? Manual restraint? Secondarily, what is the type of entanglement debris that you find the most on marine mammals in your region?

Lauri Jemison: Great questions! For years we have struggled with how to remove debris from sea lions - they are aggressive, not approachable. Earlier this year we worked out the permits to be able to chemically immobilize an eastern DPS sea lion with a neck entanglement. The ability to do this is based on a lot of work by a number of folks - developing the right combination of drugs that can be used on sea lions. This spring we darted an adult male Steller that has had a packing band around his neck since ~2007. The animal went into the water after darting but was able to surface and breath fine. We were able to manipulate the animal next to our skiffs and examine the deep wound around his neck. Unfortuantely, the packing band was deeply embedded with tissue grown over - so we were unable to remove it. In the future, targeting an animal where the entangling material is still visible would be the way to go. There is a write up on this event in the ADFG Wildlife News - posted ~June or July 2013 (if interested). Folks in BC and WA have successfully used traps to capture sea lions - the hard thing would be targeting an individual with entanglement. We have tried other methods for small sea lions - a noose pole to capture the animal (approach by skiff) then bring into skiff - problem again is targeting an individual. With larger sea lions, manual restraint is not possible. Most common entangling materials we've seen on AK pinnipeds: packing bands, black rubber bands, and nets (much more so on fur seals than sea lions).

Claire Bass: Hi, this is a question for Sue - your 'lose the loop' campaign is great, I was wondering if you'd heard of packing band entanglements being a known problem for other pinniped populations outside Alaska, and if so whether any similar campaigns are underway or planned? Many thanks

Sue Goodglick: Hi Claire. Absolutely, they are a problem world-wide. For those of you who may not have heard of it, the Lose the Loop campaign was started by the Pinniped Entanglement Group (PEG). PEG is a collaborative effort between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Fisheries, the Aleut Community of St. Paul, and other members concerned about entanglements in marine debris. Our goal is to prevent entanglements through education, identify causes, and facilitate finding solutions. I'll try to post our newly created logo :).There are folks all over the world with similar campaigns - all trying to do their part to help keep the ocean clean!

Morgan Davies: Great forum! Thank you Scott, Lauri and Sue.

Sue Goodglick: It's great to see so much interest and interesting questions from everyone. Marine debris is such a huge monster - how do we combat it? There is so much talk and effort put forth about cleaning the beaches and the sea, or rescuing animals that have unfortunately already themselves entanglement. Mostly, I write reports and tackle other boring office tasks...The wee bit of time I have in my job to help with this issue I work with other interested folks - also doing other things in the "real jobs" - (the Pinniped Entanglement Group) to help prevent entanglements through education and outreach.

Courtney Smith: A follow up question to Scott, regarding the cable entanglements. Most of those cases were prior to 1960, and were mostly attributed to the cables being repaired and then dropped in the water, rather than buried (Wood and Carter 2008). So, slack cables - no matter how strong - certainly pose an entanglement risk. But have there been cases of tight, tethered cables being cause for entanglement?

Scott Landry: I personally don't know of such cases. If a cable is truly buried (and out of reach of say a humpback grubbing in the bottom for prey) I would guess it would truly reduce risk. I would caution though that whales are stronger than people often give them credit for).

Todd: Accidentally sent my comment before I finished typing it. What can an average citizen or community conservation organization do to help mitigate problems with marine debris, especially that which endangers marine mammals? Is there any proposed legislation that we can ask our lawmakers to support? What role can youth interested in conservation take to get involved in action on this issue?

Scott Landry: One way that people can help is to report entanglements when you see them. While this is not a preventative solution, it can help: it helps those animals and allows us to collect the information we need to make policy changes (entanglement data often comes from disentanglement). Whale watchers, recreational boaters and fishermen are the main sources of our reports. Without their help, we wouldn't know as much as we do.

Charla Basran: For a country like Iceland, where there hasn't been a lot of work done on entanglement compared to some other areas in the north, what do you think the first steps would be in tackling entanglement issues or setting up a reporting system?

Scott Landry: If there is a need, ie.: if entanglement is impacting local populations, then policymakers need to be made aware of it. Without that information it will be very difficult for them to move forward, especially if there are competing demands. It took us many years of work to set up a network for entanglement response and it took enormous amounts of collaboration, locally, regionally and federally. When we first started disentangling whales it was a very local effort. Once we started to gather enough info and share that with people, we all began to realize that it was more than local. It's actually quite global.

Blake Rupe: Are there apps you use for reporting debris sightings?

Nick Wehner: NOAA's Marine Debris program has an app, actually!

Doug Ross: Sue: Regarding bycatch from open aquaculture, according to NOAA technical Memorandum NMFS US Pacific MArine Mammal Stock Assesments:2009, the following data: B.C. Salmon Pen industry reported observed mortality of California Sea Lions between 2000-2004 of 352 animals.

Sue Goodglick: Thanks for your information, Doug.

Guest: Follow-up to comment from guest: Large pinnipeds are either chemically or physically restrained at the stranding location or the animal is captured and brought into the marine mammal rescue facility. On the central coast of California at Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, approx. 90% of the entanglements are packing straps.

Sue Goodglick: Thank you for the information.

Erin: Todd, I recently attended a kids program on marine debris and here are a couple of the everyday actions that kids and adults can take. About 80% of marine debris start on land, so the old-faithful of not littering and picking up trash are important. Another good idea is practicing safe consumerism, by this I mean when purchasing items with high serving size and less trash (examples: bulk oatmeal rather than the individually wrapped single servings, or a home packed lunch rather than a lunchable) this cuts down on the amount of trash produced n the first place. While these ideas don't address the debris already in our oceans, they do help cut down on the amount that may enter them in the future.

Sue Goodglick: For more information on what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's work is on the entanglement issue, please visit: Also, help us out and watch our new PSA! We don't have funding to put it on Alaska TV yet, so I'm trying to drum up lots of hits! You can see it here: You can also view our 11-minute video produced in 2008: Marine Debris and Sea Lion Entanglements: Identifying Causes and Finding Solutions.

Blake Rupe: Nick if someone reports animal entanglement through that app is response time fast enough to unentanglement?? Or is that just for debris?

Nick Wehner: Oh no, sorry, that app doesn't do "response" to debris...just reports what's all out there for counting purposes. I don't think there's any apps for reporting an entanglement issue to be addressed. From my experience in Puget Sound (where we actually reported a stranded animal on some Styrofoam) we had to call around to a bunch of WA state offices. It was not the easiest thing to report. Finding the right people took 3 phone calls. There definitely SHOULD be an app for that!

Scott Landry: Hi Blake - that's tricky. Response teams are locally based so you would have to report an entanglement to someone specific. I do not think it would be safe for you to use that app for reporting. Specifically, if someone sees an entangled animal, it is critical that they call a reporting hotline, speak to a person and stand by the animal until a response team arrives. In cases where there isn't someone standing by, almost inevitably the animal will not be relocated, as it is a big ocean.

Sue Goodglick: Note, there are inconsistencies with it I have previously reported to the Feds (i.e., there's no mention of whales or pinnipeds on the webpage heading but the phone numbers listed are applicable to those species).
Some of the nationwide stranding info can be found here:

For Alaska: Any marine mammal that is dead, injured, or in distress should be reported to the NOAA Fisheries Alaska 24/7 hotline at 1-877-925-7773 or the Alaska SeaLife Center 24/7 hotline at 1-888-774-SEAL (7325).  If the animal is a sea otter, polar bear, or walrus only the latter number should be called.   An app for reporting all marine mammals in Alaska is found here:

Courtney Smith: Thank you, Scott and all. I apprecitate you taking the time to chat with us!

Guest: The previous comment sent before I was finished. The most pervasive entanglement debris in California coast is fishing line and netting.

Dany Zbinden, Mériscope Marine Research Station: Hello everyone and thank you for this great opportunity! We are part of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network and large whale entanglement is an issue of growing concern here in the St. Lawrence estuary and the gulf. Do you offer any practical training for marine mammal rescue teams, either on site or at your Center? You may remember, Scott, we had a brief meeting on this matter during the Quebec conference, with people from DFO, Parks Canada, MICS, and Quebec-Labrador-Foundation.

Scott Landry: Hi Dany! Good to hear from you. We do offer collaborative trainings for potential responders that work within the permits and laws of their countries. We have been collaborating with DFO and local NGO's in the St. Lawrence for years. And we have loads more work to do. The St. Lawrence is a massive area so it's been a real challenge but things are moving forward. Our training regimen literally takes years (and responders need a lot of experience working with whales) and is based on apprenticeships with advanced responders. This is one reason why it's a slow process and another reason why we need to prevent entanglements!

Macarena Cid: Thank you for the great opportunity, I hope similar things later and other topics of interest about marine mammals ;)

Scott Landry: Thanks so much for all of the great questions and comments. Really happy to see that people are actively looking at this issue. It's unfortunate but this issue is very likely to continue to grow, so the more minds we have working on this, the better.

Sue Goodglick: Just a closing thought, for those of use alive in the 70's, remember the Iron Eyes Cody Keep America Beautiful Campaign? That PSA influenced me to keep care of the earth - even though I didn't come from an environmental family. 40 years later, we still find litter most do we encourage folks to be mindful of their use the daily waste we all create? It seems so simple but feels so impossible to battle! So, our new PSA certainly didn't have the budget or impact of that 1970's PSA but my hope is it comes across everyone's "i-gadget' and gives them pause before they improperly store trash at their home, in the back of their truck....or out the window. When I see animals entangled in marine debris in our work I really think sharing that image with the rest of Alaskans (and the world) might have some influence and help people make the right choices. That's for all your time today.

Lauri Jemison: Thanks everyone for your questions - have a great day!

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