On Christmas day, a team of trained responders that included people from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary freed an adult humpback whale off Lahaina that had become entangled in about 400 feet of heavy gauge line.
Here’s how Toni Parras, the NOAA Hawaii Communications Manager, described the operation in an Dec. 26 news release:
The whale was first reported on at 11:50 am HST by the crew aboard an Ultimate Whale Watch boat, Wahine Kai. At 13:20 HST the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s response vessel, Koholā, was underway from Maʻalaea Harbor with personnel and volunteers from the Humpback Whale Sanctuary, NOAA Fisheries, and NOAA Corps on board. The U.S. Coast Guard was ready to assist if needed. At approximately 13:30 HST the team from West Maui response was able to attach a telemetry buoy to the trailing gear in order to relocate the whale should in be lost. They also obtained some valuable assessment on the animal, which showed the line in the mouth terminating as it exited on the right side. By 14:30 HST the Koholā with the rest of the team was on site. The entangled whale was not spending much time at the surface, so a decision was made to launch the inflatable vessel from the Koholā and try and keg the whale by slowly adding buoys as to keep it closer to the surface, slow it down, and perhaps be able to pull the gear from the whaleʻs mouth. At approximately 16:00 HST the team aboard the West Maui Response Team vessel, Wahine Hana, added the first kegging buoy. Soon after the inflatable team added two additional kegging poly balls. At 16:46 HST after having added the 3 poly balls and gradually moving them forward toward the animal, the line pulled from the whale’s mouth and the animal was free.
Everyone knows it’s illegal to approach with 100 yards of a humpback whale by sea and 1,000 feet by air, right? Good. Because if you happen to see a marine mammal in distress, NOAA officials say to maintain 100 yards distance and call the NOAA’s 24-hour Hotline at 1-888 256-9840. Or you can radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16 and they will relay the report.
Photo of whale rescued on Dec. 25, 2017 courtesy NOAA