Ghost gear and our blue planet

Posted on 09 January 2018 by

Guest Blogger

in the Animals in the wild blog

Blue Planet II took us on an incredible journey across our seas and into the lives of marine animals and the issues they face. Here are some of the species featured and the threats

By guest blogger Aaron Lax

Leatherback Turtles

Leatherback turtles, the largest of all turtles, featured in the final episode, ‘Our Blue Planet’. With their numbers falling due to hunting, activists in the Caribbean are working to protect them from extinction.

But this is not the only danger they face. As they migrate to UK waters in the summer to feast on jellyfish, these turtles risk becoming entangled in lost or discarded fishing nets and ropes (ghost gear).

Dolphins

We watched incredible shots of dolphins surfing and rubbing themselves against gorgonian reefs, possibly to prevent infections. But these intelligent animals are also sadly at risk from entanglement in ghost gear. 

A dolphin and her calf swimming. Credit: Alana Yurkanin/Marine Photobank

Whales

Whales are such beautiful, majestic creatures, and it was heart-breaking to see how man-made changes to their habitat are affecting them. This series also showed us the impact of overfishing and pollution.

But Blue Planet II gave us hope when it explained how a major crackdown on whaling in 1986 has enabled whale populations to recover. We need to work to reduce ghost gear too, to ensure this recovery isn’t jeopardised by the threat of entanglement.

Rescuers untangle a gray whale from ghost net. Credit: Bob Talbot / Marine Photobank

Albatrosses

Ghost gear not only affects animals that live in the water; it also affects species that rely on the ocean in other ways. Seabirds, such as the albatrosses that feature in the series, can mistake plastic fishing net for food or material to make their nests.

Sometimes they can become tangled in this ghost gear, which can prevent them from flying, nesting and diving. Albatross chicks can also tragically die after being accidentally fed plastic. 

Marine debris and fishing gear scattered among albatross nesting habitat. Credit: Steven Siegel / Marine Photobank

Sea Lions

In the sixth episode, ‘Coasts’, we saw footage of sea lions hunting tuna in the Galapagos Islands. Much like dolphins, sea lions display impressive intelligence and awareness.

Tragically, in our work we have seen many sea lions trapped in stray fishing lines, ropes and nets. This equipment can cut into the neck of a sea lion or get caught around a flipper, stopping the animal from feeding or avoiding predators, and can lead to an early death. 

Rescuers were able to untangle the gill net from this sea lion. Credit: Kanna Jones / Marine Photobank

Orcas

Blue Planet II featured a scene of an orca trapped in a fishing net. Fighting for its life, it soon became exhausted to the point of near-death.

Fortunately, this time the net had been placed as a part of a live fishing trip, which meant that it could be released and the orca freed. But once fishing gear has been lost or abandoned, many animals are not so lucky, and are forced to fight for their lives out of sight.

Blue Planet II has done an incredible job raising awareness of the issues facing animals in the ocean, and more people are looking for ways to help. If you would like to get involved in our campaign against ghost gear, then please sign our petition to persuade supermarkets to demand their fish suppliers change the way they operate.

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