Whale Disentanglement Training transcript

Mandy Watson - Senior Biodiversity Officer

We run the training at the start of the whale season. We get a lot of whales arriving on our coast throughout winter. We have right whales arriving here for breeding and we have humpback whales migrating through at this time of year.

A large whale entanglement incident is treated as an emergency, and DSE has responsibility for responding to those emergencies, but this is a multi-agency response. So we have staff from (Department of Primary Industries) DPI Fisheries and Parks Victoria also involved in the training and the project.

So what we've been doing today is practicing large whale disentanglement training procedures. We have a number of staff that are trained and accredited in the technique, and the aim of the training is to do regular practising of those techniques.

We've had five crews over the last two days out there practising on a mock-up whale tale with an entanglement on it and they have to assess that like it’s a real incident.

This training is very important because the southern right whale is critically endangered in Victoria and it's only a small population that is using this coast and it's only slowly recovering from whaling.

So the technique for disentangling a large whale is based on a technique that was originally used by whalers, and it's called kegging. So that involves attaching some ropes to the entanglement on the whale, then attaching some very large floats to those ropes. The aim of that is to slow the whale down, to tire it out, and to keep it on the surface, so that we get a much better opportunity to get in and try and remove the entanglement from the whale.

When we get to the stage when the whale is ready to work with, we can use specialised blades on long poles to try and cut that entanglement away. The other thing that we're doing is introducing satellite telemetry into the procedure, so that if the whale is not able to be freed on the first day and gets away from us overnight, we can hopefully relocate it the next day or when we've got the next weather window and we can have another go at trying to remove the entanglement.

The thing that a lot of people don't realise about this work is that it is extremely dangerous. These whales may have been entangled for a long period of time and they may be tired and weak, but they may not have been entangled for very long and they may be quite strong and aggressive. They do not know that we are there to help them, they are frightened and they will do whatever it takes to get away, and crews may be greatly at risk if they get too close.

The procedure is all on water, crews do not get into the water with the whale, we don't do any diving. It is all done from a vessel.

The majority of entanglements on whales in Victoria have been rock lobster fishing gear, so ropes and pots, and we've been working with the industry for about ten years now to ensure that the risk of entanglement is minimised as far as possible.


Page last updated: 16/07/18