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Coast Guard conducting patrols to protect humpback whales

  • U.S. COAST GUARD / PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS AMANDA LEVASSEUR

    The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry (WPC 1124) crew patrolled off the coast of Maui during Operation Kohola Guardian on Tuesday. Operation Kohola Guardian is a cooperative effort between state and federal agencies to reduce risk to mariners and to whales in Hawaiian waters while supporting conservative efforts to ensure future generations have the opportunity to experience these animals in their natural habitat.

U.S. Coast Guard crews conducted patrols off of Maui on Tuesday as part of Operation Kohola Guardian, a cooperative effort to protect mariners and humpback whales in Hawaiian waters during the first few months of the year.

The crews of Coast Guard Cutter Oliver Berry (WPC 1124) and a Coast Guard Station Maui 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, informed multiple vessel masters operating in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of the rules.

Boats must maintain a safe distance from whales and not impede the whales’ path.

An MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point also conducted an aerial patrol to report sightings of vessels getting too close to whales for outreach opportunities.

In Operation Kohola Guardian, the Coast Guard is working with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to inform the public of the regulations governing interaction with protected marine species and deter operators from deliberately getting close to these animals, which is illegal and dangerous, within the waters of Maui.

The Coast Guard reminds mariners and visitors of the following:

>> Keep a Sharp Lookout: Vessel operators should always stay vigilant for whales and other collision hazards. Look out ahead for puffs of mist, dorsal fins, tails, etc. Operators are further advised to post at least one dedicated whale lookout, in addition to the operator, from November through May.

>> Watch Your Speed: The Coast Guard recommends vessels travel at a slow, safe speed in areas where a whale strike may occur. This speed depends on vessel type, time of day, sea conditions, and other factors that affect whale detection and avoidance. Research shows that collisions occurring at vessel speeds above 10 knots cause more whale deaths and serious injuries than collisions occurring at slower speeds.

>> Stay at the Helm: Keep hands on the wheel and throttle at all times, and be ready to take action immediately to avoid a whale in your path.

>> Keep Your Distance: Once whales are sighted, stay more than 100 yards away.

>> Stop Immediately: If within 100 yards or less of a humpback whale. Leave engines running, out of gear (in neutral) until the whale moves away.

>> Pass Astern of Whales: While maintaining more than 100 yards distance, if you encounter whales in your path, do not attempt to run out in front of whales to get past them.

>> Warn Other Vessels: Use appropriate VHF radio protocol or other means to alert other vessels that may not be aware of whales in their path.

>> Don’t Assume Whales See You or Will Move: Calves are especially vulnerable since they are curious and may not have learned to be cautious of vessels.

>> Plan Ahead for Delays: Avoiding whales may take time. Build in some buffer and avoid nighttime operations if possible.

>> Hands Off: Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife, or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk and may also be illegal for certain species.

>> Call the NOAA hotline if involved in a collision at 1-888-256-9840. If a phone call is not possible, hail the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16.

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