AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) is set to purchase a new soft-bottom inflatable boat to aid whale disentanglement efforts. Members of the Marine Patrol and other DMR staff often respond to reports of whales entangled in fishing gear in Maine and nearby federal waters.
The boat will be purchased with a $20,000 grant from the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, according to a DMR statement. The boat will be approximately 17 feet in length.
“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 in consultation with partners at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). “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 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,” she said.
Major Rene Cloutier, the Marine Patrol’s field commander, said the boat will improve the Marine Patrol’s ability to respond to entanglements. “Our fleet of vessels is built to respond to law enforcement issues, but is not ideally suited for disentangling whales,” he said. “We need a boat that is smaller, more stable, is more maneuverable when we work on large species like humpbacks and right whales.”
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 the NMFS out of the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office in Gloucester, Mass.