Whale Rescues Sometimes End Badly

Fishing net entanglements are common and often kill mammals

Two successful whale rescues in less than a week were enough to make defenders of marine mammals in the Los Angeles area giddy.

But their joy was tempered by the knowledge that things don't always end so well.

Kurt Lieber says he's sick and tired of seeing Southern California’s marine life needlessly getting caught in fishing nets.

“I don’t want to get emotional, but it’s heartbreaking,” says Lieber, who heads up The Ocean Defenders Alliance.

Lieber says he was dismayed this week, watching the two gray whales being rescued after becoming entangled in nets off Dana Point and Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Volunteers for Lieber's group sometimes risk their lives to remove abandoned fishing nets from the ocean floor off the California coast. 

He says the nylon nets can last up to 500 years and they often become an underwater killing field because they trap and drown sea lions, sharks, and countless other animals who are drawn in, trying to feed on their carcasses.


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“Why is the net there in the first place," asks Lieber. "The fishermen don’t just lose them. They know where they are.”

The California Department of Fish and Game says it’s not illegal to leave fishing gear on the ocean floor because it’s not a navigational hazard for boats.  But Lieber wants to change that.

“The fishermen should be held responsible for their nets," he says. "At the beginning of the year, they should have the nets tagged and marked and identified. So when they lose them we know who is responsible for it. If we come across it, we can remove it, but we would like to see them pay into a fund to get that gear removed.”

Lieber is hoping incidents like this week's whale rescues will give his group and others like it a boost. And more importantly, save the lives of the marine creatures so many people care about.

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