Delilah Jean Williams

The controversial fishing technique known as drift netting involves floating massive gillnets freely across the surface of the ocean to basically snare anything that gets caught in the net.

Commercial fisheries use the method as a cheap way to harvest fish, but the lethal by-catch also includes whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles and many other unlucky marine creatures.

On Monday, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released an alarming report that details how deadly California’s drift gillnet fishery has become. The service cites that an average of 3 endangered sperm whales are killed by gillnets every year, along with hundreds of other protected marine mammals. When commercial fishermen draw their nets in every day, the number of discarded incidental kills is staggering. Dead and injured animals are simply dumped back into the sea, making estimated true numbers far more than reported.

Nonetheless, based on their findings the NMFS has proposed making the California gillnet fishery a “category 1”, which designates it as having the most frequent incidents of death and injury to non-targeted aquatic life.

“There’s no reason for endangered sperm whales to die in California gillnets. It just shouldn’t happen,” said Catherine Kilduff with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These incredible whales are already struggling against climate change, loud noises from military exercises and other threats. At the very least we should be trying to ensure they don’t get snared in indiscriminate fishing nets.”

According to the Center, sperm whales have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1970. From the Center’s statement:

The California-Oregon-Washington stock of sperm whales are found year-round in California waters and reach peak abundance between April and mid-June and from the end of August through mid-November. In Washington and Oregon they have been seen in every season except winter. Deep divers known to prey on the elusive giant squid, females grow to 36 feet and 15 tons and males reach 52 feet and weight as much as 45 tons. Newborn calves are about 13 feet long.

Monday’s NMFS report underpins the Center’s reasoning for joining other conservation groups last September to file a notice of intent to sue the federal government under the ESA for authorizing and overlooking the deadly damage being conducted to endangered sperm whales.

The federal government far too often ignores its own legislation under the Endangered Species Act, which forces environmental and conservation groups to sue them in an effort to protect threatened and endangered species.

It generally comes down to politics, greed, power and influence, which is what makes conservation legal action so imperative, because ocean and land-going animals cannot speak for themselves.


Jean Williams, environmental and political journalist; PrairieDogPress writer; Artistic Director, Keystone Prairie Dogs.***PrairieDogPress is the media channel for, which is a fundraising website to support environmental groups for extraordinary efforts to protect Great Plains habitat and prairie dogs in the wild. PDP uses humorous images, social commentary and serious-minded political reports to challenge government on numerous levels, including accountability to the people, the protection of threatened species, the environment and Earth’s natural resources.