U.S. Coast Guard Station Maui assisted members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in disentangling a humpback whale in Maui waters on March 6. The subadult mammal was freed of an estimated 200 feet of heavy gauge line by a team of trained responders off of Makena Beach in South Maui, according to a joint statement from Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, and U.S. Coast Guard.
Representatives with the organizations responded to the situation after learning the entangled animal had a line through its mouth forming a bridle. The report of the entanglement came in at around 9:10am from a Maui Dive Shop vessel, Makakoa, and Coast Guard Station Maui swiftly launched a 45-foot response boat. By 10:40am, the Coast Guard crew arrived on the scene, assessed the animal and entanglement, and deployed a working line with a tracking beacon attached.
“The team made several cuts, removing almost all the line, and greatly increased the animal’s chances of survival,” said Ed Lyman of 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 sanctuary’s response vessel, Kohola, followed with the rest of the team and gear. In the interim, many vessels, including the Makakoa, Redline, Maui Magic, Bluewater Rafting, fishing vessel Piper, Maui Diamond II, and PacWhale Eco Adventure’s Ocean Explorer, assisted by monitoring the animal and relaying information while the response team was en route.
“Kohola 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, and pulled themselves up behind the animal,” said Lyman. “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.”
At 12:30pm, 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,” Lyman said. “Only a small amount of gear in the whale’s mouth and trailing along its sides was left providing the animal with an excellent chance of surviving. This was a successful operation that involved the efforts of many – a team effort. Mahalo to all.”
In the joint statement, experts advise mariners to keep a sharp lookout for whales in distress but recommend not to approach closely or attempt to assist them. For the animal’s protection and the safety of the responders, only trained and well-equipped responders are authorized under NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program to help whales and other marine mammals. If any marine mammal is sighted in distress, the public is asked to maintain a 100-yard distance and call the NOAA 24-hour hotline at 1-888 256-9840. If unable to call, radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 and the report will be relayed.
The public is reminded it is illegal to approach a humpback whale closer than 100 yards by any means at sea and 1,000 feet by aircraft.
Photo courtesy of Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary