The Green Leaf

Young humpback whale disentangled

December 30th, 2014


Humpback whale with entanglement. Courtesy of J. Moore, NOAA Hawaiian Whale National Marine Sanctuary MMHSRP Permit #932-1905.

Humpback whale with entanglement. Courtesy of J. Moore, NOAA Hawaiian Whale National Marine Sanctuary. MMHSRP Permit #932-1905.

The Hawaiian islands humpback whale season is here, and with it, the first disentanglement of a juvenile off the shores of Kihei, Maui on Dec. 10, the first of the 2014-2015 season.

NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program team was able to free the young, entangled whale earlier this month using knives on a long pole and a cutting grapple. The whale had multiple wraps of heavy gauge, red monofilament longline wrapped around its tail, which caused wounds, and trailing gear.

Most of the gear was successfully removed — not an easy task at all when dealing with a 30-foot whale.

The disentanglement was the result of teamwork — Maui County Ocean Safety Life Guards made the initial report after the whale was sighted by a stand-up boarder. They monitored the 30-foot whale until the authorized response team (made up of HIHWNMS, NOAA Corps, NOAA Fisheries, Hawaii Wildlife Fund) arrived aboard the Kohola.

Whale season stretches from November to May (although the first humpback whale this year was spotted in mid-September off of west Kauai). As many as 10,000 humpback whales make the annual 3,000-mile trek from Alaska to Hawaii every winter to mate and nurse their calves.

The 2013-2014 humpback whale season (Nov. 1, 2013 to May 15, 2014) had the highest number of confirmed large whale entanglement reports of any season since 2002, with 21 reports received, representing at least 13 different animals. It could be the result of more reporting, according to response coordinator Ed Lyman.

"Everyone is pitching in," he said. "We have a great, cohesive network with tour boat operators, fishermen, everyone's helping out and calling in."

If you see an entangled or distressed whale, please call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 888-256-9840 or radio the U.S. Coast Guard on channel 16. Federal regulations require maintaining 100 yards of distance in or on the water, and 1,000 feet from an aircraft.

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