Death of Humpback Whale Highlights Indiscriminate Nature of Gillnets

First spotted in February, scientists say whale was either lost or sick



Press Release Date: 
April, 2016
Contact: Janelle Chanona: [email protected]

Globally, it is estimated that there are only 80,000 Humpback Whales left in the wild. And tonight, there is one less of these magnificent creatures swimming in the sea. A Humpback whale first spotted in Belize on February 24th 2016, was confirmed dead on Monday, April 25th by fishermen from Barranco Village in the Toledo District.  Over the eight week period, multiple sightings of the Humpback whale, estimated to be approximately 30 feet in length, were recorded in several locations in Belize, including the deep water channel leading to the Big Creek Port, Sciopio Caye, the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and Riversdale. Reports out of Puerto Barrios, Guatemala also indicate fishermen encountered the whale in Guatemalan waters on April 6th.

Local scientists believe the whale was lost or was sick. Efforts are currently underway to attempt a necropsy to determine the exact cause of death. When Oceana personnel traveled to the rough and murky waters offshore Barranco on Friday, April 22nd, the whale was in obvious distress. That it was subsequently observed that the whale’s movement was being hampered by a gillnet wrapped around its tail, was insult to injury. The net(s) in question appeared to be the property of foreign fishermen who apparently returned to the scene during the night to recover their property. Fishermen from the area reported to Oceana say given the number of illegal gillnets being used in Belizean waters, it was only a matter of time before the whale became entangled.

“Gillnets may look innocuous,” says Oceana’s Janelle Chanona, “But as this incident highlights, even a whale can become entangled in and affected by a gillnet. Repeated incidents involving protected and endangered species as well as charismatics continue to reveal the indiscriminate nature of these nets. In 2016, as Belize works towards sustainability and good governance, we can, and should, stop using gillnets.”

Humpback whales are known to travel great distances during migration season. The whales travel to tropical and subtropical waters to breed and give birth. Weighing in at more than 79,000 pounds, the whales live on a diet of krill and small fish and can grow to more than 50 feet and. Humpbacks are popular with whale watchers because they can breach, or propel their bodies out of the water, as well as execute other distinctive behaviors on the surface. The Humpback was once a target for whalers and the population was pushed to the brink of extinction until a moratorium was declared in 1966. They can live for 50 years but Humpbacks continue to be negatively impacted by entanglement in fishing gear, ship collisions and noise pollution.