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Prevent deaths in nets

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.

What can you?

Support WDC's efforts to:

  • lobby governments for strong laws to reduce the threats to whales and dolphins;
  • work with scientists and fishermen to find new ways and new technologies that are safer for whales and dolphins;
  • campaign to give those species being driven to extinction by current fishing practices, such as the Hector’s dolphin, Māui dolphin and the North Atlantic right whale, a fighting chance of survival.

Think about the impact of the fish on your plate.

Fish are wildlife that play an important role in the marine environment as well as being fellow creatures themselves. By eating less fish and being more mindful of the fish that you buy you can make a difference, helping to send a message to the fishing and retail industry to make stronger efforts to protect whales and dolphins. To find fish with the lowest impact, look out for pole and line-caught or one-by-one fishing. Some people are making a conscious decision to stop eating fish altogether. This is a personal choice that is only open to those able to substitute fish in their diet, but it can be a powerful and positive option for some.

Organise or join a local beach clean or urban beach clean

Every piece of litter, rope or net taken off a shoreline is one less hazard floating in the sea. If you can’t remove it, at least cut any loops – as these are particularly hazardous.

Talk to your friends and family

Share your concerns. People need to know what impact we are having on the ocean and how they can help make a difference.


  • WDC was among the first to identify the welfare impacts of fishing gear on individual porpoises and dolphins.
  • WDC campaigned for the ban on large scale drift nets in the EU.
  • Thanks to WDC campaigning, the UK is a whale and dolphin champion. The Fisheries Minister has committed to the UK being a world leader in tackling the problem of whales and dolphins becoming caught in fishing gear.
  • WDC helped cut the number of vertical buoy lines along the east coast of the US, reducing the risk of entanglement to large whales.
  • WDC, as part of the Harbour Porpoise Take Reduction Team, significantly cut deaths of harbour porpoises in gillnets in the US, by requiring the use of ‘pingers’ 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?