Packing bands: What impact are they having on pinnipeds?

Hogan, E., & Warlick, A. (2017). Packing Bands Entangling Pinnipeds Around the World: Global Review and Policy. Journal of International Wildlife Law & Policy, 20(1), 96-104.

Packing bands and other debris are a large threat to marine life. The study investigates pinniped entanglement, that are caused by packing bands. Regulatory changes and composition adjustments in other hazardous debris have already proven successful in reducing the number of casualties among marine life. This not only helps individual animals, but can also aid species conservation.

Packing bands are one of the most common causes of entanglement among pinnipeds. The study analysed the characteristics of packing bands that have been found to entangle marine life. The study involved the collection of 93 samples from 11 locations around the world, over a one-year period. The width, colour and composition of the bands were analysed.

From the samples, 84 were packing bands, and pinnipeds were the most often cited group that became entangled (in 71 of the cases). This supports previous findings that the bands are a major contributor of entanglement among pinnipeds. Despite its relatively small sample size, this study provides a valuable addition to existing research and could aid plans in relation to marine conservation and welfare.

Some packing bands are more dangerous than others

The researchers found that most of the examined packing bands share certain characteristics. The most common width of the bands was around 0.25 inches, over two thirds of the bands were somewhere between 0.2 and 0.45 inches wide. It is likely that this is because these sizes of bands are more widely used. These measurements potentially make the packing bands more visible and interesting to pinnipeds, making it easier for them to get entangled. It would be interesting to investigate whether these widths also cause the most severe injuries and if bands with different widths can prevent entanglement altogether.

Most of the studied packing bands also shared specific colours; white, yellow, blue and green. Again, these colours are likely to be the most widely used among packings bands. What stood out was the low number of red packing bands that were collected. A previous study concluded found that whales are least likely to get entangled when ropes are red. This may be because red debris is easier to recognise and therefore avoid in the ocean than blue and yellow debris. Therefore, replacing these colours might reduce entanglement rates.

Policy changes could ensure the bands are degradable. Since 1994, all beverage ring carriers sold in the U.S. are required to be made from material that is easily degradable. In 2010, animals entangled by ring carriers made up less than one percent of marine life entanglements. It is unclear whether this is a direct result of these regulatory changes since older figures are not available.

In Australia, the use of packing bands was completely banned. This greatly reduced the number of entanglement incidents from previous estimates. Additionally, measures to phase out packing bands were followed by a decrease in incidents of entanglement of fur seals.

Since packing bands are widely used, an outright ban on them would be hard to implement initially. A more realistic alternative could be to initially engage with the fishing industry, where the risk of packing bands entering the ocean is at its highest. Eventually, however, innovations in the production of biodegradable plastic could make packing band entanglements a problem of the past.

World Animal Protection’s view

The increasing dangers of debris in the ocean are not only a threat to the welfare of individual animals, but have the potential to reduce numbers of vulnerable species. This study gives us more insight in the characteristics of packing bands that cause the most harm. This information is valuable as it indicates that some changes could be made to reduce the number of incidents of entanglement.