Entangled Humpback Whale Freed of Gear Off Maui
An estimated 500 feet of heavy gauge line was removed from an entangled humpback whale off Maui.
The sub-adult animal was freed of the gear by a team of trained responders off of Mākena Beach in South Maui on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. Representatives with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and US Coast Guard say the animal was entangled in the line through its mouth that formed a bridle.
“The team made several cuts, removing almost all the line, and greatly increased the animal’s chances of survival,” said Ed Lyman with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. “However, a small amount of gear could not be pulled from the whale’s mouth and thus remains. The recovered gear will be analyzed towards determining its possible origins and trying to reduce entanglement threat in the future.”
The report of the entanglement was made at around 9:10 a.m. by Maui Dive Shop vessel, Makakoa; and a rapid first response team was mounted by the US Coast Guard Station Maui.
The sanctuary’s response vessel, Koholā, followed with the rest of the team and gear. In the interim, a number of vessels, including the Makakoa, Redline, Maui Magic, Bluewater Rafting, fishing vessel Piper, Maui Diamond II, and PacWhale Eco Adventure vessel Ocean Explorer, assisted by monitoring the animal and relaying information while the response team was enroute.
By 10:40 a.m., the Coast Guard had arrived on scene, assessed the animal and entanglement, and deployed a working line with a tracking beacon attached. The sanctuary’s response vessel Koholā arrived soon after with the rest of the team and launched an inflatable boat.
“A team of responders in the inflatable approached the whale, grabbed the working line that had been attached, and pulled themselves up behind the animal. At this point one line of the bridle was cut and untwisted, but the line was too deeply embedded in the mouth to pull free,” said Lyman.
At 12:30 p.m., with seas building, another approach was made within feet of the whale’s tail, to cut the other side of the bridle as far forward as possible. “The pair of cuts removed as much line as possible, along with all the trailing buoys. Only a small of amount of gear in the whale’s mouth and trailing along its sides was left providing the animal with an excellent chance of surviving,” said Lyman.
Experts say an estimated 500 feet of line and buoys were removed from the animal. “This was a successful operation that involved the efforts of many – a team effort. Mahalo to all,” said Lyman.
In a joint statement, experts advise mariners to keep a sharp lookout for whales in distress, but advise not to approach closely or attempt to assist them. “Only trained and well-equipped responders that are authorized under NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are permitted to assist whales and other marine mammals.”
If any marine mammal is sighted in distress, the public is asked to maintain 100 yards distance and call the NOAA 24-hour Hotline at 1-888 256-9840. If unable to call, radio the US Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16 and they will relay the report.
The public is reminded that it is illegal to approach a humpback whale closer than 100 yards by any means by sea and 1,000 feet by aircraft.
The response was coordinated by Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, working with and under the authorization of NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (permit #18786-03). It included personnel from the sanctuary, the US Coast Guard Station Maui, NOAA Corps, Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, Oceanwide Science Institute, University of Hawaiʻi – Hilo, Cardinal Point Captains and others.