Archive for the ‘Hawaiian humpback whales’ Category

Humpback whales in our midst

March 14th, 2016

Photo of humpback whale and mom. Courtesy J. Moore – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 15240

Photo of humpback whale and mom. Courtesy J. Moore – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 15240

We admire them from a distance and have studied them for more than 30 years, yet they remain a mystery.

Despite a late arrival, the humpback whales are back in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary, here to mate and nurse their calves in the warmer and shallower waters of the islands. While scientists have gained a lot of knowledge about whale biology and behavior, they have never witnessed the humpback whales in the act of mating.

Drone footage recently captured a mother humpback whale "tail-sailing," or basically doing a headstand in the ocean with its tail out of the water, catching the wind like a sail. The "tail-sailing" is common among southern right whales, but has rarely been documented among humpback whales.

The footage was captured during a two-week study by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries' Collaborative Center for Unmanned Technology, which also used drones to conduct health assessments of the whales from a closer distance.

Volunteers continue to count sightings of the humpback whales from the shores of Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island on the last day of the month in January, February and March. As featured in today's Green Leaf column, some of these volunteers, like June Kawamata, are dedicated citizen scientists. Kawamata, a retired oordinator from Kailua High School's cafeteria, served as an Ocean Count site leader at Lanai Lookout for 20 years. She still heads out when she can, out of a love for the whales.

One more count is scheduled for March 26. If interested, visit

Boaters are also reminded to be vigilant during humpback whale season, which generally runs from November through May in Hawaii. Mariners are asked to report any collisions with whales, or injured or entangled whales to NOAA's 24-hour hotline at 1-888-256-9840.

Humpback whale breaching. 2011. Courtesy Ed Lyman – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 14682

Humpback whale breaching. 2011. Courtesy Ed Lyman – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 14682

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160 Humpback Whales

April 3rd, 2015

Humpback whales spotted off the coast of Oahu. Volunteers counted 160 in March. Courtesy NOAA.

Humpback whales spotted off the coast of Oahu. Volunteers counted 160 throughout the Hawaiian isles in March. Courtesy NOAA/Photo by Nicole Fisher.

A total of 160 humpback whales were counted on the morning of Saturday, March 28 during the 20th anniversary of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count.

More than 600 volunteers collected data from 57 sites statewide, and spotted the 160 whales from shore, mostly between 9:30 to 9:45 a.m. What's interesting is that the sites that reported the highest average number of humpback whales were predominately located within sanctuary boundaries.

On Oahu, an average of three humpback whales were counted per 15 minutes. Volunteers at Diamond Head, Lanikai and Turtle Bay Resort were able to see several in one morning. On Kauai, an average of two whales were counted per 15 minutes. On Hawai‘i island, an average of two whales were counted per 15 minutes.

"For 20 years, the Sanctuary Ocean Count has proven to be a fun volunteer activity for residents and visitors," said sanctuary superintendent Malia Chow. "It also provides important population and distribution information on humpback whales around the Hawaiian islands that we use to better understand and protect this important species."

NOAA recently announced a proposal to expand the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which would bring boundaries out an additional 235 square miles around Oahu, Kauai and Niihau, plus include multiple marine species. Here's a summary. Members of the public are invited to submit comments to the agency on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement from now until June 19.

Meetings are scheduled  on the proposal throughout the isles in April and May.

The Sanctuary Ocean Count is held each year on the last Saturday of January, February and March. Volunteers who are interested in participating can register online at or call 808-725-5917 on Oahu and Hawaii and 808-246-2860 for Kauai. Volunteers are required to register prior to participating one week prior to the count date.

Related videos:

Ocean Count

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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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Mother and baby whale

March 3rd, 2014

Capt. Dave Anderson of Dana Point, Calif., captured this beautiful footage of a mother and baby Hawaiian humpback whale off the waters of Maui during a recent trip in February. Stay tuned to the second half of this five-minute video, which starts with a dolphin stampede in Dana Point.

He captured the footage by drone – or quadcopter — during a vacation on Maui. The mother and baby approached his boat off Maui, says Capt. Dave, and he made sure to maintain a respectful distance while capturing the footage.

"Putting it together the way I did will, I hope, raise awareness of these animals in a way that hasn't been done before," said Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave's Dolphins & Whale Watching Safari.

Anderson, who produced the documentary "Wild Dolphins & Whales of Southern California," also says it shows the great potential drones can have for wildlife filmmakers. He's excited about the possibilities the new technology can offer.

"I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat," he said.

Three days after getting a quadcopter, Anderson said he was filming the dolphin stampede off Dana Point, Calif. He also captured some beautiful footage of a gray whale, but had a mishap in which he lost the quadcopter after it nicked an antennae and dropped in the water. Now he makes sure to put a flotation device on his quad.

There is also footage of three gray whales migrating down the coast off San Clemente, Calif.

On Maui, he said he parked his boat a distance from the mother and calf to watch them, spending pretty about a half day out there. A male escort whale was also out there, watching after the pair. He deployed his quadcopter (a DJI Phantom 2 with a small GoPro) four times — at 15-minute intervals each.

From the surface, it looked as if the mother was diving down and leaving her calf behind. From the drone, Anderson saw that the mother whale was just resting right under the surface of the water, with the calf hovering nearby.

"They were just interacting with each other in such an intimate way," he said. "I think the most beautiful part of that film is what I shot in Hawaii."

Anderson, a whale watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience, also warns others to only attempt filming by drone if familiar with whale behavior and laws. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association  is currently reviewing drones and their use around whales.

Learn more at

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