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Whale Disentanglement Training in Ecuador
I’m so happy to have been able to attend to the training for large whale entanglement
response, which was held on Salinas, Ecuador on June 27 and 28 on this year. In the workshop, representatives from each country belonging to the CPPS were able to learn from the pros, David Mattila, from the IWC Entanglement Response, and Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator, both whom had so many years of experience to share with us on their work on disentanglement of whales.
We started from scratch: the first day, the first topic was the importance of security, as a video was projected, giving us an adrenaline rush, and also letting us know that this was not a game: our lives would depend on the decision of what kind of approach we take towards disentangling a whale.
Curiously, I already knew that: about a month before attending to the course, on an effort to clear some doubts I had with previous experiences of whale disentanglement, I emailed Scott Landry, director of whale rescues at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. He kindly managed to answer my question, and told me about this training coming up on my country soon. Talk about perfect timing! This is how i first heard of the course I’m now writing about. Thanks Scott! Ok so getting back to the subject, Scott asked me for some pictures of the whale rescue experience, and i send him a copy of the newspaper, where you could clearly see people in the water with the whale, trying to cut the nets off it. This is when he told me getting in water with the whale was the most dangerous thing we could do, thus this idea got stuck in my mind. Unfortunately, this is what most of the people do here in Ecuador: we didn’t have the tools nor the knowledge to work on the disentanglement without going into the water. Now we know better.
After the security emphasis, the course started heading on the fishing nets subjects, and different types of entanglements the whale can be a victim of. This gave rise to another important point: as said in Spanish by the instructors: to have a "cabeza fria" (or cold head as a direct translation).
Now, what does this mean? Is basically means that you have to observe the whole panorama, and decide for the behalf of the whale and for the behalf of the team, no attachments included.
It mean if for example, you have to be able to let go of the whale when the weather will make it too risky for your team to work, or when you determine the entanglement does not mean a threat to the whale, and it will eventually come off by itself. This was hard for me at the beginning to assimilate, but in the end I did, and I know with time and experience this will get easier to decide in certain cases.
Then it was time to start talking about the steps towards the disentanglement process. This was perfectly explained, using different examples from past cases, and making us understand that each one will be very different from the other, but the basic steps and analysis on these events will lead us to making the right choices and decisions. Practice time came at last! Each of us tried on land the various tools brought by the instructors, and learned to use them according to the steps we talked about before. It was a success!!
The next day, it was time to go on board and apply the knowledge we learned the day before at the sea. The adventure began! We made two different groups, each distributed on a zodiac and on a small boat, to practice the first steps on the approach to the whale, on the buoy incorporations, and finally the line attachment. Essential procedure steps involved good communication with your rescue partner, always maintaining the line on one side of the vessel, checking for possible entanglements with on board objects (or your foot!), always focusing on one thing at a time, making secure determined actions, and always being aware of the motor of the vessel, keeping it away of any gear floating off the whale. It was an amazing day!!!!
The other group even got to see a real whale! It was not entangled, but the group was able to understand the magnitude of a whales slapping tail against a small boat. I didn’t want to leave the sea! I would’ve stayed all day practicing new techniques, of that I’m totally sure. :)