Two Abandoned Whale Calf Encounters Reported in Maui Waters

March 12, 2010, 4:19 PM HST · Updated March 12, 4:35 PM
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The Pacific Whale foundation reported two encounters with an emaciated and apparently abandoned whale calf in waters off of Maui last week.  Agency officials say it’s likely that the separate encounters may have been the same animal, but were unable to obtain a positive identification.

Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation.

Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation.

Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation.

Greg Kaufman, the founder and Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation said calves can be abandoned for a number of reasons including accidental separation from its mother, abandonment because of a health problem or deformity that would not allow it to reach maturity, or death of the mother shortly after birth.

“The hardest thing about these situations is that nothing can be done for the calf,” said Kaufman.  “Calves require about 100 gallons per day of their mom’s fat-rich milk for survival; there is no known substitute food for them. We can’t hand-raise them. There is no tank here that can hold a calf as it grows into adulthood. As sad as it is, we just have to allow nature to take its course.”

The sightings were observed on March 4th and 5th in Maalaea and Lahaina by vessels from the Pacific Whale Foundation.

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During the first encounter, the vessel Ocean Spirit came upon two adult whales and two calves around 8:30 am near Ma’alaea during a whalewatch cruise. Crews observed that one calf was healthy and was remaining close to its mother, while the second calf was undersized and was being pushed away by the other adult whale. Eventually, the smaller calf gave up its attempts to join the trio of whales, and swam over to the vessel where it remained for approximately 30 minutes before leaving.

The second sighting took place on Friday, March 5 at 11:43 a.m. about a half mile south of Lahaina, by the vessel Ocean Explorer.   “The calf milled around our boat for approximately 15 minutes, diving shallowly,” reported Megan Cook, research assistant at Pacific Whale Foundation. “There were very obvious scrape marks along the calf’s caudal region and sides, as well as the tubercles being rubbed raw.  The dorsal fin was bleeding and there was a patch of what appeared to be whale lice on the top of the dorsal fin.”

“As the population of humpback whales increases in Hawaii, we will likely see the number of abandoned calves increasing,” says Kaufman. “The abandoned calves represent a percentage of that increasing number,” he said.

To report a stranded or injured whale, call NOAA Fisheries at 888 256-9840.  To report violations of the 100-yard approach rule, call NOAA Enforcement 800-853-1964.

(Posted by Wendy Osher; Information provided courtesy: Pacific Whale Foundation)

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