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Entangled humpback whale freed of 140 feet of line and gear off Ukumehame, Maui

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Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06

An entangled yearling humpback whale was freed of gear by a NOAA-led team of trained responders off Ukumehame, Maui on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2022.

The animal was entangled in at least 140 feet of line, with a buoy trailing about 60 feet behind, according to a joint statement issued by the NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA Fisheries. 

Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06

NOAA reports that an authorized response was mounted, and the animal was safely cut free of all gear.  “Preliminary analysis indicates the identity of the gear as local mooring gear, of considerable weight. The recovered gear will be further analyzed towards determining its possible origins and trying to reduce entanglement threats for large whales in the future,” according to the agency.

The response involved personnel from Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Fisheries, West Maui Rapid Response team (trained personnel from Ultimate Whale Watch), US Coast Guard from Station Maui, NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, state of Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources, and University of Hawaiʻi –  Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology (two teams involving whale and shark researchers). NOAA reports that the Pacific Whale Foundation research team was ready to assist if needed. 

The whale was first reported by a PacWhale Eco-Adventures vessel, Ocean Odyssey.

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“The entanglement was a single wrap of small-gauge, yellow line around the animal’s tailstock and over the fluke blades, forming a bridle that trailed behind to a moderate-sized white, hard plastic trawl buoy,” according to the report.

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NOAA reports that the animal was in “good” condition, though the wrap at the tailstock was beginning to cut into the animal’s flesh. Response crews reported that the animal’s behavior was “very evasive,” and while it stayed near the surface, it maintained unusually rapid speeds, at times in excess of six knots. The entanglement and its impacts were deemed “life-threatening,” according to the report.

  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06
  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06
  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06
  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06
  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06
  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06
  • Entangled humpback whale reported on 1/26/2022 freed off Ukumehame, Maui, on 1/26/2022. PC: NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program MMHSRP permit #18786-06

“The entanglement response team aboard the sanctuary vessel Koholā met up with trained first responders that were on site monitoring the whale’s position and providing initial assessment. Trained entanglement responders approached the animal from an inflatable launched from the Koholā, and used a hooked knife attached to a pole to safely cut it free of all gear. Safety and cutting the whale free were the primary objectives for the team,” according to the joint statement.

Mariners are asked to keep a sharp lookout for whales in distress, but not to approach closely or attempt to assist them. Only trained and well-equipped responders that are authorized under a Marine Mammal Protection Act/Endangered Species Act permit issued to NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are permitted to assist entangled whales and other marine mammals.

If you see an injured or entangled marine mammal:

  • Keep a safe and legal distance.
  • Call the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 888-256-9840 or the US Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 immediately.
  • If you are reporting a vessel coming too close to a whale, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964 or email [email protected]
  • Additional guidelines and safety tips can be found online.
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The public is reminded that it is illegal to approach a humpback whale closer than 100 yards by any means by sea or drone and 1,000 feet by aircraft.

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