Inflatable vessel to help Maine improve disentanglement efforts

Thu, 12/24/2015 - 7:45am

With recent funding from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Maine Department of Marine Resources has taken another step forward in its ability to lead whale disentanglement efforts.

The $20,000 grant will be used by the DMR to purchase a soft bottom inflatable boat that can maneuver more safely and effectively when Maine Marine Patrol, along with key DMR staff, respond to entangled whales.

“Often, responders have to pull alongside an entangled whale which might surface underneath the boat,” said DMR Scientist Erin Summers, who is coordinating the purchase. “A soft bottom boat will move and form to the body of the whale, making injury to the whale less likely. A hard bottom boat is also more likely to tip when hit from below, which could endanger the responders.”

“This boat will help Marine Patrol significantly improve our ability to respond to entanglements,” stated Major Rene Cloutier, Marine Patrol’s Field Commander. “Our fleet of vessels is built to respond to law enforcement issues, but is not ideally suited for disentangling whales. We need a boat that is smaller, more stable, is more maneuverable when we work on large species like humpbacks and right whales.”

“This work is conducted very close to the whale and a soft bottom boat will allow us to maneuver into position so the responders can more easily move around in the boat and handle the specialty tools which are mounted on the end of a long pole and used to cut lines from the whales,” said Summers.

The approximately 17-foot soft bottom boat, purchased in consultation with partners at National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), will provide a much needed resource for fast and effective response by the Maine Marine Patrol.

Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine are currently the only states on the East Coast with the authority and training from NMFS to respond to large whale entanglements. One DMR staff member and nine Marine Patrol officers are trained and authorized as first responders for entanglements. The network of responders on the east coast, known as the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network, is coordinated by NMFS out of the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  

“This boat will help Maine continue to improve our efficiency and performance in disentanglement response,” said Summers.