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Prevent deaths in nets

What is the greatest threat to whales and dolphins?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins around the world are accidentally killed in fishing nets and ropes.  Known as 'bycatch' this is the biggest cause of harm and death to whales and dolphins today.

How does fishing gear endanger whales and dolphins?

The fishing industry employs many types of capture techniques, including vast walls of netting; fishing lines up to 100km long, baited with thousands of hooks; and thousands of rope lines connected to traps on the ocean floor. Together these may create potentially deadly labyrinths through which a whale or dolphin must navigate.

What happens to whales and dolphins caught in fishing gear?

Like us, whales and dolphins breathe air, so when they get tangled up in a net, rope or fishing line it can be a race against time to reach the surface or to escape. In their desperation to escape and avoid suffocation, or in getting tangled in gear, some tear muscles, break teeth, and sheer off fins. The more they struggle, the more entangled they can become.

Minke whale

Some break free but swim for months with gear wrapped around their bodies, entrapping them and sometimes sawing into their flesh and bones until they die from infections or starvation. Those who escape can be left with painful injuries.

What can you do?

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. If you decide to eat fish, by eating less 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. WDC has been working with the leading supermarkets to audit the source of their fish and other marine- products. Find out more.

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.
  • Persuading the NZ Government to take action to give greater protection to endangered Hector's dolphins and Māui 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.

Join us in saying Goodbye Bycatch

Dolphins, porpoises and whales are suffering and dying right now in UK seas to put fish and other marine wildlife on our plates. We know the solutions. We CAN stop this.

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?