6 min read

This Is How Whales Are Freed From Deadly Traps

Born and raised on Campobello Island, Captain Mackie Greene leads the Campobello Whale Rescue Team, an intrepid group of fishermen who care so much about whales that they are willing to risk their lives to save them.

Campobello Island sits just off the cost of New Brunswick in the Bay of Fundy. It's a pristine place, where beautiful evergreens and ancient lighthouses peak through the swathes of fog - what the locals call "Fundy sunshine." People here are just as comfortable at sea as they are on land.

The Bay of Fundy is a rich ocean ecosystem, a place teeming with sea life of all kinds. That explains why so many people in the area make their living from the sea - and why the waters attract so many fin, humpback, minke, and other baleen whales to feed and mate.

There's no overt conflict between whales and fishermen here, but the lines and nets used for fishing can pose a serious problem for the giant filter-feeding whales. Fishing gear in the whale's habitat can be very difficult for them to detect and avoid. If they swim into the gear they can become entangled, often with life-threatening consequences.

Whale entanglement is a serious animal welfare issue. When a whale is tangled up in fishing gear, the extra drag means he or she needs to expend far more energy just to move around. The gear causes terrible wounds, and sometimes anchors the whale to the sea floor - which can result in drowning. And with some whale species so close to extinction, such as the North Atlantic Right Whale which feeds and breeds in the Bay of Fundy, saving each individual animal is all the more important.

The lines and nets used for fishing can pose a serious problem for the giant filter-feeding whales. Greene has been on the ocean all his life, and when he first saw a whale entangled in fishing gear, he knew he needed to help. "It's just something that needs to be done," he says. "I'm just trying to be a good steward of the ocean, and I think that's the way most people are around here. After watching the whales, you see how amazing a creature they are and how important it is to have them around."

He soon realized that he didn't have the tools or experience to help whales on his own. That's when he reached out to the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts for help.

Mackie and his crew acquired training and tools, and got to work saving the whales they care so much about. Soon, IFAW heard about this group of fishermen who were taking it upon themselves to save whales in the Bay of Fundy, and we reached out to offer our support.

IFAW provides operational funding for the Campobello Whale Rescue Team. That means fuel, training, and tens of thousands of dollars of specialized gear - support that we couldn't give without your help.

The day I arrived on Campobello, Mackie and the Campobello Whale Rescue Team were called out to rescue a juvenile minke whale. It was humbling to see these men rush off to help a whale, even when it puts their own lives in danger. And it was a huge relief for everyone when they returned, successful in their work, another whale saved - thanks to the CWRT, and IFAW donors.

- Andreas Krebs