Operation Koholā: Whale Guardian Patrol Off Maui

February 15, 2016, 11:43 AM HST · Updated February 15, 11:44 AM
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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.

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    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.

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    “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.

      Humpback whale. Photo credit: Robert and Ellen Ramio.

      Humpback whale. Photo credit: Robert and Ellen Ramio.

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    As Petty Officer 2nd Class Nainoa Quinn drives a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Hill talks to Coast Guard Station Maui about a possible entailed whale sighting while on patrol in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016. A joint Coast Guard and Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources team conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    Officer Eric Vuong of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources queries a tour vessel master about a report of a possible entangled whale near Maui, Feb. 11, 2016. DLNR and the Coast Guard conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Hill of Coast Guard Station Maui looks over survival gear during a recreational vessel boarding near Maui, Feb. 11, 2016. Once the safety boarding was complete, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources officers also looked over the mariner’s catch to ensure compliance with state fishing regulations and catch limits. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Hill and Petty Officer Second Class Andres Vilitski, of Coast Guard Station Maui, make a final review a completed boarding form before giving it a mariner during a recreational vessel boarding near Maui, Feb. 11, 2016. Station Maui crew was on patrol in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural resources teams conducting safety and compliance boardings in conjunction with Operation Kohala Guardian. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    Petty Officer 1st Class Sean Hill of Coast Guard Station Maui, provides a copy of a completed boarding form to a mariner during a recreational vessel boarding near Maui Feb. 11, 2016. Station Maui crew was on patrol in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural resources teams conducting safety and compliance boardings in conjunction with Operation Kohala Guardian. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) transits off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) and a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium from Station Maui transit off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    A boarding team from USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) returns to the cutter after speaking with mariners and the public aboard a tour vessel about the regulations for operating in the region of Maui and the distance to maintain from whales in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrols off Maui

    Officer Eric Vuong of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources observes the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) and keeps a lookout for whale activity near Maui, Feb. 11, 2016. DLNR and the Coast Guard conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    A humpback whale surfaces near Maui during a joint patrol between the Coast Guard and Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Feb. 11, 2016. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) with officers from the DLNR frequently conduct patrols in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary during the early part of the year to ensure the safety of mariners and the whales following their migration from Alaska to engage in mating and calving. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    A humpback whale surfaces near Maui during a joint patrol between the Coast Guard and Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Feb. 11, 2016. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) with officers from the DLNR frequently conduct patrols in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary during the early part of the year to ensure the safety of mariners and the whales following their migration from Alaska to engage in mating and calving. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) transits off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) transits off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Officer Eric Vuong of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources observes the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) and keeps a lookout for whale activity near Maui, Feb. 11, 2016. DLNR and the Coast Guard conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    Officer Eric Vuong of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources observes the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) and keeps a lookout for whale activity near Maui, Feb. 11, 2016. DLNR and the Coast Guard conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) recovers their small boat while off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

    USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) recovers their small boat while off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016, during Operation Kohola Guardian. Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the Kiska and officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers/Released)

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