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NOAA warns boaters about humpbacks in Hawaii waters

  • COURTESY NOAA

Wildlife officials are warning boaters to watch out for an abundance of mother and calf humpback whale pairs in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.

Each winter and spring, thousands of humpback whales visit the waters around the Hawaiian islands to breed, give birth, and nurse their young. The sanctuary is made up of five separate areas abutting six of the main isles in the state, but centered mostly around the isles of Molokai, Lanai and Maui.

Officials are reminding ocean users to slow down, post a lookout with an extra set of eyes, and keep a safe distance from these annual visitors to the sanctuary, given that collisions with vessels are a risk to both the animals and humans. Also, to view these marine mammals responsibly.

“Responsible wildlife viewing and education promotes stewardship, helping protect these animals at a critical time in their lives,” said Ed Lyman, Natural Resource Management Specialist for the sanctuary, in a news release. “Ocean users play an important role by helping the sanctuary monitor humpback whales in the sanctuary and nearby waters.”

Sightings are up, according to Lyman, and given that it is peak season, it does look like a “fair number of animals are out there.” In the Maui nui area, there are a ballpark estimate of at least 100 mother and calf pairs, he said.

Boaters should post a lookout, with an extra set of eyes scanning the waters ahead and to the side of a boat to prevent collisions with marine life, obstructions, divers and other vessels. Slower speeds may also reduce the risk of collisions with the animals.

Federal regulations prohibit approaching within 100 yards of humpback whales when on or in the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft. These and other regulations apply to all ocean users, including vessel operators, kayakers, paddle boarders, windsurfers, swimmers and divers throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

Additional guidelines and safety tips are available at this link.

At the same time, boaters can also play an important role in helping whales that get entangled by reporting them to a specialized response network made up of state and federal agencies as well as local researchers that is authorized to respond.

To date, there have been at least three entangled whale reports, according to Lyman — a peduncle hooking off of Hawaii island, and two fishing line wraps, including one off of Oahu and one off of Maui.

The latter two were just reported late last week, and the team is searching for a resighting of the entangled whales.

“By locating distressed animals, reporting and providing initial documentation and assessment on the animal — from a safe and legal distance — ocean users act like first responders and are the foundation of our conservation efforts,” he said.

Anyone who sees an entangled whale should keep a safe and legal distance, and call NOAA’s s 24/7 marine wildlife hotline at (888) 256-9840. Reports of vessels too close to a whale can be made to the NOAA Fisheries enforcement hotline at (800) 853-1964 or respectwildlife@noaa.gov.

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