Officials said an abundance of mother-calf pairs has been observed in and around the sanctuary, which includes waters around all of Maui, off the north shore of Kauai, the north and south shores of Oahu, and Kohala and the North Kona coast of Hawaii island.
“Certainly, right now, at least Maui Nui, there are a lot of mothers and calves, and a lot of them are close to shore,” said Ed Lyman, Natural Resources Specialist for the sanctuary. “We do not have an estimate yet, but it’s enough to say, let’s share this with the rest of the on-water community. Be careful. Share the water.”
An estimated 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawaii’s warmer waters to mate, calve and nurse their young every year. The massive marine mammals, which can grow to 60 feet in length and weigh 40 tons, arrive as early as October and stay as late as May, with peak activity occurring from January to March.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reminds ocean users to keep a safe distance from these annual visitors to avoid collisions, as well as of federal laws that protect the whales.
Federal regulations prohibit approaching humpback whales within 100 yards when on or in the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft.
These apply to all ocean users, including boat operators, kayakers, paddle boarders, windsurfers, swimmers and divers throughout the Hawaiian islands.
Ocean users can also be a great resource in helping to monitor the humpback whales in the sanctuary and nearby waters, according to Lyman, by reporting and locating distressed animals – whales that are entangled in fishing gear, for example — and providing the initial documentation and assessment on the animal.
NOAA also reminds boaters to post a lookout at all times throughout the year — an extra set of eyes scanning the waters ahead and to the side of a boat can prevent collisions with animals, divers and other vessels. Slower speeds may also reduce the risk of collisions with animals.
Injured or entangled marine mammals can be reported to the NOAA marine mammal hotline at 1-888-256-9840, or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16. Violations can be reported to the NOAA Fisheries enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.