While out on a whale watching tour with Monterey Bay Whale Watch, crew and passengers saw several Risso’s Dolphins and about 30 sea lions that were caught in a squid net struggling to get loose. The video was taken less than a mile from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The tours set out to the bay where they estimated about 300 Risso’s Dolphins were mixed with about 30 Pacific White-Sided Dolphins, scattered over at least a mile. Also in the same waters were about 15 squid fishing boats that were fishing for the very squid that the dolphins were feeding on.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the schools of squid travel into the sandy nearshore waters off the Aquarium to mate and lay their egg sacs before dying. The Risso’s Dolphins often feed on the squid in this area, just off the Monterey Bay. The squid fishing boats arrive to catch the squid when they come in to spawn in this same area. Normally the squid boats fish at night using light boats to attract the squid to the surface so their small skiffs can take one end of their purse seine nets and encircle a large school of squid.
The net is then pulled up onto the boat by a winch to bunch all the squid tightly into a small area where it is sucked up by a pipe into the boat’s hold. Sea lions commonly jump in and out of the nets, and the boats are legally allowed to use “seal bombs” (small sticks of dynamite) to scare the sea lions out of the nets.
Currently the Monterey National Marine Sanctuary has an ongoing working group to address the issue of seal bombs related to disturbance of marine animals. Prior to this video, there had not been any video or photos evidence of dolphins being caught in the nets, so they are unsure how often this happens. They did say that it was very unusual that fishing was occurring during the day at the same time that tours are out watching the dolphins.
All of the dolphins were able to be released, but researchers are unsure of the impact it may have had on them. Dolphins will not naturally jump over buoy lines like sea lions do, which puts them at severe risk of these fishing practices.
“The dolphins were probably really stressed because they were pulled out of the water and they were struggling to breathe, but no,luckily the fishermen did a really good job and got them out of the nets. It took them awhile because it’s a huge net and they had to push the buoy line down. So yeah, the dolphins were ok, probably just stressed out,” said Monterey Bay Whale Watch Marine Biologist Nancy Black.
This incident is extremely troubling as there is the potential that bycatch happens frequently in the waters in Monterey Bay.
In a statement to Sea Voice News from NOAA’s Moneterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, they have stated, “(The incident) has been reported to NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and California Department of Fish and Wildlife on April 24, 2018. As this is an active investigation through these agencies, NOAA/MBNMS cannot provide comment about this incident at this time. NOAA/MBNMS have regulations in place that explicitly prohibit harassment of marine mammals, as defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. As such, NOAA’s takes this incident very seriously and is conducting a comprehensive investigation.”
NOAA also said that the public should be encouraged to report such incidents in the future to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964. Incident reports can be submitted after the fact.