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NOAA reminds people to watch out for humpback whales as they migrate to Hawaii

Nina Wu
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The majority of humpback whales are expected to be in Hawaii between January and March.

As humpback whale season gets underway, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary reminds the public that the marine mammals are protected by state and federal laws.

The numbers may vary from year to year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but an estimated 12,000 humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Alaska to breed, calve, and nurse their young in the warm waters of Hawaii.

While some whales have already arrived, the majority are expected to visit Hawaii between January and March.

NOAA reminds the public that federal regulations prohibit approaching humpback whales within 100 yards when on or in the water, and within 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft. NOAA also recommends that vessels travel at a slow, safe speed in areas where a whale strike may occur, with research showing that collisions occurring at speeds above 10 knots cause more whale deaths and serious injuries.

Additional guides and safety tips are available at this link.

“Collisions between whales and vessels occur annually, presenting serious risks to boaters as well as the whales,” said Edward Lyman, large whale entanglement response coordinator for the sanctuary in a news release. “Whale calves are particularly vulnerable because they are difficult to see and surface more often.”

Humpback whales also face the risk of getting entangled in fishing gear, which can result in starvation, physical trauma and infections, and may contribute to vessel strikes since the animals are less mobile.

NOAA recently released a national report on large whale entanglements for 2017, which was slightly higher compared to previous years. Humpback whales are the most frequently reported, entangled large whale species, representing 68.1 percent of all confirmed entanglements since 2007.

A Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network, which includes members of NOAA, the U.S. Coast Guard, state Department of Land and Natural Resources, private non-governmental organizations, fishermen, researchers and other individuals, respond to reports of entangled whales and works to free them.

Reports of injured or entangled marine mammals can be reported to NOAA’s hotline at 888-256-9840 or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16. Reports of vessels approaching a whale too closely can be made to the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964 or by email to respectwildlife@noaa.gov.

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