VIDEO: Whale Response & Research Vessel Dedicated on MauiFebruary 22, 2012, 12:32 PM HST · Updated February 22, 12:35 PM 0 Comments
By Wendy Osher
A blessing ceremony was held on Maui today, ushering into service a 38-foot vessel, built to support whale research and assist in entanglement response efforts.
The Koholā, aptly named for the marine mammal it will protect, is stationed at Mā‘alaea Harbor, in the heart of the whale sanctuary.
“This boat will be critically important to us doing the kind of science that enables us to make good management decisions,” said Jane Lubchenco Ph.D, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“For us to be able to adequately protect them and understand their behavior, we need to have good scientific information,” said Lubchenco. The vessel, she said, will enable the agency to do just that.
The vessel also plays a critically important role in freeing whales that happen to get entangled in fishing gear. Entanglement has been identified as a primary threat to the species, with more than 50% of humpbacks in some regions having been recently entangled, according to sanctuary staff estimates.
“It happens, unfortunately, an awful lot of the time and it’s truly unfortunate; but to be able to rescue those whales is an important part of our mission,” said Lubchenco. “Our trained crew of scientists and others on this boat have become very skilled, very adept, in disentangling whales and freeing them,” she said.
The boat features built-in storage for a 15-foot rapid deployment inflatable, a davit for lifting heavy equipment, and a custom designed upper helm station for better visibility for safe operation around whales.
“This design allows us to add additional zodiac capability… it has additional carriers unlike any other boat that we’ve used before,” said Malia Chow, Sanctuary Superintendent for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale NMS.
Since receiving the boat two months ago, Chow said, crews have already responded to about a half dozen response incidents. “As you know February is the peak season for whales here in Hawaii, so it’s about typical; but the difference now is that we have our own small boat, with our uniquely trained staff to do on-the-water response,” said Chow.
Fellow Sanctuary employee, Elia Herman, State Home Manager for the HIHWNMS and DLNR agreed saying the vessel enables increased efforts for response and research. “We also have a greater community presence so that we can bring people out on the water and educate them about the work the sanctuary is doing, about the whales, about the partnership with DLNR and NOAA to protect these waters,” she said.
The Hawaiian Islands provide critical breeding grounds for the endangered species. Up to 12,000 of the 20,000 humpback whales found in the North Pacific migrate to Hawaiian waters each year to mate, calf, and nurse their young.
The sanctuary was designated in 1992 by Congress to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters.