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Red de Asistencia a Ballenas Enmalladas (RABEN): 20 Years of Rescue and Commitment

Jorge Chávez
Dec. 11, 2023
104 views

On January 3rd, 2024, the Red de Asistencia a Ballenas Enmalladas (RABEN) (Tangled Whale Assistance Network) will celebrate two decades since a humpback whale was found entangled in Banderas Bay. That rescue gave birth to this organization and set in motion a series of events that would change the course of marine conservation.

In 2004, RABEN began with the courageous collaboration of the then 8th Naval Zone of Puerto Vallarta (now the 12th), as well as whale watching tour operators, CRIP (Centro Regional de Investigación Acuícuola y Pesquera) (Regional Center for Aquaculture and Fisheries Research) and ECOBAC (Ecología y Conservación de Ballenas, AC) (Ecology and Conservation of Whales, AC). Together, armed with improvised tools and driven by unwavering determination, they managed to free the entangled whale after seven hours of risky maneuvers. This heroic effort marked the beginning of what would become a large-scale rescue mission.

Since that day, RABEN has undergone an extraordinary evolution, following a protocol based on more than 40 years of experience in the field. The network, consisting of 15 teams spread throughout the Mexican Pacific and the Baja California peninsula, includes more than 180 highly trained members. Their dedication has resulted in the successful rescue of 87 whales, including humpbacks, gray whales, fin whales, Bryde’s whales and sperm whales.

Each rescue is more than just a statistic. Behind the 87 released whales are stories of hours and sometimes days of effort. The unpredictable nature of the ocean, the behavior of the whales, and the complexity of the rescue have brought moments of sadness and frustration, but have also provided invaluable lessons to improve rescue techniques.

The diversity of the RABEN teams reflects inter-institutional cooperation, with active participation from government agencies, universities, and volunteers from civic associations and tour operators. United by a common purpose, they work efficiently to free entangled whales, ensuring the safety of the animals and the preservation of these majestic marine giants.

ECOBAC plays a crucial role in this fight by managing reports, providing training, supplying equipment and documenting each rescue. Despite limited resources, the association’s team faces each challenge with the firm belief that prevention is the key to tackling the root of the problem.

To commemorate this important milestone, a photographic exhibition has been organized to capture the essence of the rescues and the majesty of these ocean giants. The exhibition will be held at the Los Mangos Library and will be open to the public until December 18th, 2023. This exhibition not only celebrates past achievements, but also serves as a reminder of the ongoing importance of marine conservation.

With the start of the whale watching season in Puerto Vallarta and Riviera Nayarit, the 16 RABEN teams are ready to respond to any reports. The timeliness and accuracy of these reports are critical to the effectiveness of the rescue. Navigators are encouraged to report the sighting of an entangled whale immediately, providing the exact location and visual evidence (photos or videos). The importance of not attempting to free the whale or cut the nets is emphasized, as such actions can cause more harm and complicate rescue efforts.

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