Maui News

Entangled subadult humpback whale freed of gear off Hawaiʻi Island

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Image credit: B. Lonergan/NOAA MMHSRP (permit no. 24359)
  • Entangled humpback whale. Image credit: D. Fukushima/NOAA MMHSRP (permit no. 24359)
  • Entangled humpback whale. Image credit: D. Fukushima/NOAA MMHSRP (permit no. 24359)
  • Authorized and trained responder Colin Cornforth with some of the entangling gear removed from the humpback whale. Image credit: B. Lonergan/NOAA MMHSRP (permit no. 24359)

A subadult humpback whale was freed from a life-threatening entanglement of rope and buoys during a NOAA-led team response on Tuesday off Hawaiʻi Island’s Kona coast.

The entanglement consisted of small gauge rope wrapped tightly and embedded around the tailstock, with a bundle of gear and two buoys behind the whale’s fluke.

Experts say the location and type of entanglement meant the animal would likely not be able to free itself, according to a joint statement issued by the NOAA Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA Fisheries.


The entanglement was was first reported late in the day on Jan. 30 by Ocean Sports off of the Mauna Lani hotel in North Kona. Due to the time of day no response was possible. The next day, on Jan. 31, Ocean Encounters re-sighted the whale near the Kona Airport, and stood by the animal until responders could arrive. 

A trained and well-equipped team on a dedicated Captain Zodiac response vessel left Honokōhau Harbor at 3:30 p.m. to document and assess the animal. After assessment and real-time, offsite consultation with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary team, the team prepared a hooked knife on the end of a 30-foot carbon-fiber pole to get close enough to make a cut. They proceeded to make calculated cuts to the entangling line, removing two buoys and roughly 100 ft. of line and netting. 

The animal is believed to be fully disentangled with some non-wrapping embedded lines that will hopefully be shed over time, according to NOAA.


“While the animal is no longer entangled, the impacts of the entanglement remain. The animal was in poor condition, emaciated, and suffering physical trauma. However, it now has a much better chance of survival,” according to the news release.

The recovered gear will be assessed to determine its origin and use, to better understand the entanglement risk and reduce the threat of future entanglements. 

Who to call if you see a whale in distress:

Mariners are asked to keep a sharp lookout for whales in distress, but not to approach closely or attempt to assist them. NOAA-authorized responders are the only individuals permitted to assist entangled whales and other marine mammals, in coordination with federal laws. Immediately reporting an entangled or otherwise injured or distressed whale, is the best way to help the animal. 


If you see an injured or entangled marine mammal, keep a safe and legal distance and call the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 888-256-9840 or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 immediately. To report a vessel coming too close to a whale, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964, email [email protected], or call your local DOCARE office. 

Best practices and boating recommendations around whales

Revised recommendations for best boating practices around whales, developed jointly by the sanctuary, the State of Hawaiʻi, and Pacific Whale Foundation, can be found at: Additional wildlife viewing guidelines, safety tips, and hotlines can be found at

It is illegal to approach a humpback whale closer than 100 yards by any means by sea or drone and closer than 1,000 feet by aircraft.

A free online course by NOAA and partners provides guidance on how the on-water community can help entangled whales in Hawai‘i waters. The U.S. Whale Entanglement Response course helps fishermen, tour boat operators, and whale researchers better assist trained responders disentangle large whales.


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