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How can we prevent whales and dolphins from being caught and killed in fishing gear?

The people who earn a living from fishing (whether using nets, lines or ropes) do not want to catch whales and dolphins, yet fishing gear is accidentally killing hundreds of thousands every year.

Why is fishing gear a danger to whales and dolphins?

Over decades humans have developed sophisticated ways of catching huge amounts of seafood for markets around the world: vast walls of netting; fishing lines up to 100km long baited with thousands of hooks; many thousands of rope lines connected to traps on the ocean floor. The gear creates a labyrinth through which a whale or dolphin must swim and can be deadly to one who gets caught in it.

Is this the biggest threat whales and dolphins face?

When a whale or dolphin swims into a net, rope or fishing line, they can quickly become entangled. Like humans, they breathe air, and so a race-against-time begins. If they can’t surface quickly enough, they suffocate. In their desperation to escape, some tear muscles, break teeth, and sheer off fins. But the more they struggle, the more entangled they can become.

Minke whale

Some who break free carry pieces of gear wrapped around their heads, flippers, bodies or tails; swimming for months with the gear entrapping them and sometimes sawing into their flesh and even bones until they die from resulting infections or starvation. Those who escape can be left with painful injuries.

How your support can help

  • Stronger laws protecting whales and dolphins – by supporting WDC, you can help us campaign for laws that reduce threats to whales and dolphins.
  • Find safer ways to fish – you can help us work with scientists and fishermen to find innovative ways for fisheries to operate, and to develop and use technologies that are safer for whales and dolphins.
  • Save species from extinction – help us to save species being driven to extinction by current fishing practices: Hector’s dolphin, Māui dolphin and the North Atlantic right whale are amongst those at most immediate risk. Accidental death in fishing gear is not the only threat to these species, but tackling this threat will help give them a fighting chance of survival.


WDC was amongst the first to identify the welfare impacts of fishing gear on individual porpoises and dolphins

The UK is a whale and dolphin champion– thanks to WDC campaigning, the UK Fisheries Minister committed to the UK being a world leader in tackling the problem of whales and dolphins becoming caught in fishing gear.

Reducing the risk of whale entanglements in the US - WDC’s helped to reduce the number of vertical (buoy) lines along the east coast, reducing the risk of entanglement to large whales.

Reducing deaths of harbour porpoise in the US - as a member of the Harbour Porpoise Take Reduction Team, WDC helped to significantly reduce bycatch in gillnets, by requiring the use of ‘pingers,’ which make noises that alert porpoises to the nets.

Support our campaigns to make fishing safer

Whales and dolphins continue to die in fishing gear. They need your help. Save them by getting involved today.

Our campaigns

Whales and dolphins continue to die in fishing gear. They need your help. Save them by getting involved today.

New Zealand dolphin in net

Save New Zealand dolphins

Fishing nets are pushing New Zealand dolphins to extinction. It's not too late to save them but we need to act fast. Join our major international campaign.

Protect UK dolphins, porpoises and whales after Brexit

Their future hangs in the balance. Help us make sure the governments of the UK put strong laws in place to protect dolphins, porpoises and whales from fishing gear in UK seas after we leave the EU.

Please help us make fishing safer

By adopting a whale or dolphin, by making a donation, or by fundraising for WDC, you can help us stop the accidental deaths of whales and dolphins.

Orca - Rob Lott


Adopt a whale or dolphin and help stop accidental deaths.

Bottlenose dolphins leaping


Your gifts help us take action to help keep whales and dolphins safe and free.

Humpback whale spyhop


Run, bake, walk, cycle… what could you do to help?