First Humpback Whale of Season Sighted off Honaunau
By Wendy Osher
The state’s first whale sighting of the season in sanctuary waters was confirmed off Hawaii Island this week by members of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Sea Quest tour operator, Captain Tony Roensch reported witnessing two tail slaps from a humpback whale yearling in waters off of Honaunau Bay on Monday.
The sighting serves as a reminder of the upcoming whale season, which traditionally runs from November through May, although whales may be encountered in limited numbers during other months of the year. Sanctuary staff say as many as 12,000 humpback whales winter in Hawaiian waters each year.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remind boaters and other ocean users to keep a safe distance from the wintering whales.
Endangered humpback whales are protected in Hawaiian waters. Federal regulations prohibit approaching within 100 yards of whales when on the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft.
“It’s important for everyone to be extra vigilant during whale season, for their own safety and the protection of these magnificent animals,” said Paul Wong, operations coordinator, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
NOAA officials say whale calves are vulnerable to vessel strikes because they are difficult to see as they rest just under the surface. The young whales must also surface more frequently than adults.
If boaters or ocean-goers come across an injured or entangled marine mammal, they should maintain the required safe distance and call the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline (1-888-256-9840) to file an immediate report.
“By locating distressed animals, reporting and providing the initial documentation and assessment on the animal, ocean users are the foundation of our conservation efforts,” said Ed Lyman, marine mammal response manager for the sanctuary.
To report a suspected approach zone violation, callers can contact the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.