What to do when you encounter an entangled animal

credit: NOAA Flickr account

Do you know that more than 800 marine and coastal species are adversely affected by marine debris? Our oceans and waterways are burdened by widespread pollution caused by discarded man-made materials. Marine debris is an ugly reality that haunts us today and marine animals have become helpless victims. Fish, birds, crustaceans, and marine mammals have become entangled in various types of debris such as discarded fishing gear, rope, plastic bags, and other forms of trash. Sadly, many of them are injured and left to die a horrible death. 

Promptly report a sighting of an injured animal

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the best way to help an entangled animal is through prompt reporting. Although your first instinct is most likely to rescue the animal in distress, please keep in mind that the creature may be badly injured, sick, disoriented, and hungry. It may be dangerous to go near the entangled animal since it’s hard to predict the reactions of wild creatures, especially one that is under a lot of stress. In some places, it is against the law to handle the animals without a permit. NOAA strongly advises that only trained and authorized responders should attempt to disentangle animals like seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and whales for the safety of both humans and people involved. 

If you come across an entangled animal whether on land or in the water, take note of the date, location of the animal (including longitude and latitude if possible), number of animals affected, and species then report it immediately to NOAA or your local animal rescue and rehabilitation center so they can take appropriate action. Try to observe the animal’s condition – Is it weak? What kind of debris is involved? How is the animal entangled? Are there open wounds?

If you have a camera, take photos and/or videos of the animal, in different angles if possible while maintaining a safe distance so that responders can easily identify the species and have an idea of the state that it is in. Your report may also be used in their studies to prevent similar cases. The same response for entangled creatures can be applied to stranded or beached animals.

NOAA discourages chasing or corralling the injured animal if it tries to move away. For instance, if you come across a beached dolphin or whale or an injured animal like a turtle, seal, or sea lion, do not attempt to remove the debris or provide medical attention unless you have proper training. An injured marine creature sensing that you are a threat can lash back at you or flee to the water and drown. The best thing to do is to observe the animal from a safe distance, at least 100 yards and wait for responders to arrive if possible so you could assist them in finding the animal. If you encountered the animal in the water, you can provide the time and coordinates where you last saw it and other important details to help the responders. 

Doing your share to prevent entanglement

You can help protect our oceans and marine life by ensuring the proper disposal of trash and practicing the three R’s – reduce, reuse, and recycle. Here are some simple things that we can do to minimize our impact on marine pollution:

single-use plastic via Pexels

  • Avoid single-use plastic items like disposable plastic straws, utensils, cups, and bags by bringing reusable counterparts. For example, you can now buy reusable straws made of bamboo or metal. You can also bring your washable cutlery and water containers wherever you go. If you’re taking out food, do not get plastic straw and cutlery since you have your own. 
  • Refrain from purchasing soda cans or beers with plastic 6-pack rings because they have been known to encircle the bodies of marine creatures. Instead, look for products with photodegradable rings, which means that the rings break down in light.
  • If you’re into fishing, make sure that you properly dispose of fishing lines and lures because they can end up in the water and cause harm to creatures. 
  • Do not use helium balloons because they often end up in the water. The animals can ingest them thinking that it’s food and cause blockages in their digestive systems. Many beached animals that die have plastic garbage inside of them. 
  • You can download the Marine Debris Tracker mobile app, a joint initiative between the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative (SEA-MDI) which allows you to track and log debris that you encounter in the water or on the shoreline. You can submit the debris info and it will record the location using GPS which you can later view and track.
  • If you’re a certified diver, you can join dive centers like Nemo Diving Center in their clean-up dive activities to help protect and preserve the marine environment.

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