KAILUA-KONA >> Poor weather and dangerous seas have hampered authorities in their efforts to free a humpback whale tangled in a strong synthetic line.
The 45-foot, 45-ton whale was first noticed approximately 45 miles northwest of Hilo late Friday afternoon, too late to assess it situation and reach it. There were no reports of the whale being seen on Saturday, which West Hawaii Today reported was likely due to stormy conditions.
Federal officials received several reports of the tangled whale, now pulling a red buoy, moving south along the Kona Coast on Sunday.
A tour boat with passengers on board stayed with the whale until responders arrived. The captain reported the whale seemed to be OK, but wasn’t using its tail much and relied heavily on its flippers, said Ed Lyman, resource protection manager and large whale entanglement response coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Responders were able to put a satellite tag on the whale to track it. A Monday rescue effort was postponed when the whale moved on to an area with strong and treacherous ocean currents.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries and Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary officials are monitoring the whale and are looking for opportunities to get it untangled.
Officials warn people from taking matters into their own hands and trying to free the whale, which is an endangered species. It could cost violators $25,000 if they come within 100 yards of a whale in Hawaii waters without permission from the federal agency.
Officials say up to 10,000 humpbacks may visit waters off Hawaii to mate and breed in the winter.
Whales can become tangled in fishing gear and other synthetic lines from ocean debris in either Hawaii or in their feeding grounds in the northern Pacific, which they then carry to Hawaii.
Authorities with the marine sanctuary said entanglements are dangerous for humpbacks, and could result in drowning, starvation, trauma, infections and increased susceptibility to ship strikes.