VIDEO: Whale Near Niʿihau is First Sighting of Season in Hawaiʻi
The first humpback whale of the season was spotted by researchers aboard the NOAA ship Hiʻialakai off of Niʻihau last week, marking an early start to the whale season in Hawaiʻi.
The sighting was reported on Tuesday, Sept. 29, as the crew traveled home from a mission at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
“Humpback whales remind us that this is one contiguous archipelago,” said Randall Kosaki Ph.D., NOAA’s deputy superintendent of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and chief scientist of the expedition in a press release announcement. “These whales seamlessly utilize both the NWHI and the inhabited Hawaiian islands.”
Another sighting of an adult humpback whale was reported a few days later near the Pacific Missile Range Facility off the southwest coast of Kauaʻi by Captain Sterling Silva aboard the Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures.
Humpback whale season in Hawaiʻi generally runs from November through May, although whales may be encountered in limited numbers during other months. Officials estimate that more than 10,000 humpback whales winter in Hawaiian waters each year.
NOAA officials issued some reminders for the public, ocean users and mariners as the whale season begins including the following:
- Keep a safe distance: Endangered humpback whales are protected in Hawai‘i. Federal regulations prohibit approaching within 100 yards of whales when on the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft. These and other regulations apply to all ocean users, including vessel operators, kayakers, paddle boarders, windsurfers, swimmers and divers throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
- Post a Lookout: Boaters are reminded to post a lookout at all times throughout the year, not just when whales are visiting island waters. An extra set of eyes scanning the waters ahead and to the side of a boat can prevent collisions with marine life, obstructions, divers and other vessels.
Ed Lyman, marine mammal response manager for the sanctuary, said ocean users such as those that reported the whale sightings are a “great resource” in helping monitor humpback whales in the sanctuary. “By locating distressed animals, reporting and providing the initial documentation and assessment on the animal, ocean users are the foundation of our conservation efforts,” he said.
“It’s important for everyone to be extra vigilant during whale season, for their own safety and the protection of the animals,” said Malia Chow, Superintendent of the sanctuary in the agency announcement.
- How to report injured or entangled marine mammals: Individuals or mariners who come across an injured or entangled marine mammal are asked to maintain the required safe distance and call the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline at 1-888-256-9840 immediately, or the US Coast Guard on channel 16.
- How to report approach zone violations: Suspected approach zone violations can be reported to the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.
Being Whale Aware:
- LOOK OUT, WHEN WHALES ARE ABOUT: From December through May always stay at your helm and post an observer to spot whales while underway.
- SLOW DOWN, WHALES AROUND: From December through May reduce speed to 15 knots or less in ‘whale waters’ (waters 100 fathoms – 600 feet – in depth or less). Reduce speeds to 10 knots or less after dark.
- SEE A BLOW, GO EXTRA SLOW: Reduce your speed to 6 knots or less when within 440 yards of a whale or dolphin group. Avoid abrupt course changes.
- BRAKE FOR WHALES, STOP YOUR PROP: federal and state laws prohibit approaching humpback whales closer than 100 yards.
- 100 YARDS OR LESS = STOP: If your vessel unexpectedly encounters a humpback whale within 100 yards, STOP IMMEDIATELY and allow the whales to pass.
- AVOID APPROACHING whales and dolphins from the front or from directly behind. Always approach and depart from the side rear, moving in a direction parallel to the direction of the whales.
- KEEP CLEAR of the whales’ path. Avoid positioning your vessel within 440 yards of the path of traveling whales.
- BE CAUTIOUS and COURTEOUS: approach areas of known or suspected whale and dolphin activity with extreme caution. Look in all directions before planning your approach or departure.
- LIMIT YOUR VIEWING with whale groups containing calves to 30 minutes. This will minimize the cumulative impact of many vessels and give consideration to other viewers.
- NO MORE THAN THREE: Never more than three vessels of any size or type should stop to watch a whale or dolphin group.
- DO NOT SWIM with or FEED whales.
- If a COLLISION OCCURS, immediately call the National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline: 1-888-256-9840. To report a violation of the 100-yard approach rule, or human related disturbance, call NOAA Enforcement: 1-800-853-1964.
Proper Whale Approach
- Vessels should operate in a direction parallel and to the side rear of the whale’s travel direction, maintaining a minimum distance of 100 yards.
- A vessel’s speed should be six knots or less and never faster than the whale’s speed when engaged in parallel viewing. When disengaging, angle vessel away from the nearest whale, and depart at slow, no-wake speed.
- Do not leap-frog ahead or cut in front of a whale’s path.