Operation Koholā: Whale Guardian Patrol Off MauiFebruary 15, 2016, 11:43 AM HST · Updated February 15, 11:44 AM 0 Comments
Coast Guard crews with Hawaiʻi Department of Natural Resources conservation officers conducted joint patrols off Maui Thursday in conjunction with Operation Koholā Guardian. The joint recreational safety and compliance team informed crews of multiple vessels operating in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path.
Crews aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Barbers Point also conducted an aerial patrol and reported any sighting of vessels getting too close to whales.
Every year humpback whales winter in Hawaiʻi to find mates and bear calves. The main Hawaiian Islands may contain the largest seasonal population of North Pacific humpbacks in the world. Of the 21,000 endangered humpback whales in existence, the population that uses Hawaiʻi’s waters as their principle wintering ground is likely more than 10,000 animals.
“It is the migration and concentration of whales that draws many tourists to Hawaiʻi and drives a significant amount of commercial vessel traffic into the waters off Maui. The Coast Guard works with our partners, DLNR and NOAA, to inform the public and promote responsible use of the waterways,” said Eric Roberts, marine resource specialist, Coast Guard 14th District in an agency press release.
“Operation Kohalā Guardian is designed to inform the public of the regulations governing interaction with protracted marine species and deter operators from deliberately getting close to these animals, which is illegal,” he said.
The agency compiled a list of reminders for mariners and visitors that includes the following recommendations:
- Keep a Sharp Lookout — Vessel operators should always stay vigilant for whales and other collision hazards. Look out ahead for puffs of mist, dorsal fins, tails, etc. Operators are further advised to post at least one dedicated whale lookout, in addition to the operator, from November through May.
- Watch Your Speed — The Coast Guard recommend vessels travel at a slow, safe speed in areas where a whale strike may occur. This speed depends on vessel type, time of day, sea conditions, and other factors that affect whale detection and avoidance. Research shows that collisions occurring at vessel speeds above 10 knots cause more whale deaths and serious injuries than collisions occurring at slower speeds.
- Stay at the Helm — Keep hands on the wheel and throttle at all times, and be ready to take action immediately to avoid a whale in your path.
- Keep Your Distance — Once whales are sighted, stay more than 100 yards away.
- Stop Immediately — If within 100 yards or less of a humpback whale. Leave engines running, out of gear (in neutral) until the whale moves away.
- Pass Astern of Whales — While maintaining more than 100 yards distance, if you encounter whales in your path, do not attempt to run out in front of whales to get past them.
- Warn Other Vessels — Use appropriate VHF radio protocol or other means to alert other vessels that may not be aware of whales in their path.
- Don’t Assume Whales See You or Will Move — Calves are especially vulnerable since they are curious and may not have learned to be cautious of vessels.
- Plan Ahead for Delays — Avoiding whales may take time. Build in some buffer and avoid nighttime operations if possible.
- Call the NOAA Hotline if Involved in a Collision at 1-888-256-9840 — If a phone call is not possible, hail the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16.
- Hands Off — Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife, or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk and may also be illegal for certain species.