On his annual whale watching trip in the Sea of Cortez off the coast of Mexico, Michael Fishbach noticed a seemingly lifeless humpback whale floating beside the boat. As he and his crew assessed the situation, they noticed the whale take a large breath, showing signs of life. However, there were other complications with the whale - he was caught in a large fishing net. 


With Michael's quick thinking, he was able to cut loose a dorsal fin, but decided to call for aid as the damage was quite serious. After reaching a dispatcher, they were notified that someone may or may not arrive in an hour to help. Taking matters into his own hands, Michael was determined to do more work on the net. With only a small knife, he was able to free one of the pectoral fins. Finally, they did enough that the whale was able to swim free, but it was not an easy task. Although the whale was tangled in the net and its tail was weighed down 15 feet with gear, there was a danger that it could have easily taken Michael out with one panicked movement due to its sheer size.

According to whales.org, over 300,000 whales, dolphins, and other large marine animals are killed every year as collateral damage from commercial fishing. Getting caught in fishing nets and gear, these animals succumb to a slow, painful death. Even if they are lucky enough to escape, many of them suffer great distress and sustain injuries such as cuts, amputations, fractures, or broken bones. 

What type of animals are affected by commercial fishing?

The majority of sea animals affected by commercial fishing tend to be whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Among the whales, the North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered, with only 500 of the species swimming the oceans today. Vaquitas (a rare species of porpoise) orcas, boto whales, sperm whales, and beluga whales are also frequent casualties of commercial fishing. 

Who is fighting to save these animals?

Many organizations have become dedicated to sustaining the ocean's ecology and protecting the species that inhabit it. Michael Fishbach and his partner Gershon Cohen are the founders of Great Whale Conservancy (GWC), a non-profit organization whose main focus is on increasing the separation between ships and whales. 

WDC is an organization that is actively performing ground-breaking scientific research, as well as being one of the largest whale and dolphin conservation groups in the world.

What initiatives are being taken to save the animals?

GWC is currently assisting in the research of the "whale pump phenomenon". Working with Harvard, they are collecting data from whale feces to evaluate the potential for phytoplankton growth. Aside from that, they are working to publicize the issue as openly as possible. You can learn more about it at www.greatwhaleconservancy.com.

WDC is working with large fishing corporations to stop and ban practices that leave a negative impact on the ocean. They are also campaigning to protect certain areas of the oceans occupied by the large sea animals. You can learn more about them at www.whales.org.

How can you help?

All of these organizations welcome volunteers as well as donations to support their efforts and research. If you are unable to do either, keeping your part by spreading the knowledge has just as much impact.