[Ed. Note: This post originally left a digit off the Maui Marine Mammal Response Program phone number at the end of the article. It’s now correct.]
The Pacific Whale Foundation says one of its crews spotted a sperm whale on the morning of Thursday, Dec. 4, about a mile outside Ma’alaea Harbor. The crew aboard the Ocean Explorer said the whale was spotted in approximately 100 feet of water, which is not typical for a sperm whale. The whales are usually found in deep, offshore waters or near deep ledges, such as along Hawaii Island’s Kona coast.
“While it is exciting to see a sperm whale, we are concerned about the health of this animal,” said PWF research biologist Stephanie Currie. “We did not observe any obvious signs of trauma or illness, but to see a sperm whale in this relatively shallow water in unusual and that leads us to believe this animal may be unwell.”
Members of PWF’s research team onboard a different vessel, Ocean Liberty, were able to photograph the sperm whale and observe its behavior. They said the whale did not change location throughout the day and did not appear to be swimming in any particular direction but simply milling at the surface. That unusual behavior may indicate the animal is sick or in distress. Typical behavior includes diving and frequently rolling on its sides.
In July 2014, another sperm whale came into Maui leeward waters and died shortly after. Last Christmas, a sick and pregnant dwarf sperm whale beached herself in Kihei.
Sperm whales are one of the deepest diving and longest ranging cetaceans, and they are the largest of the toothed whales, or odontocetes.
Pacific Whale Foundation urges anyone who spots the sperm whale to contact the research department at 808-856-8305 so that they can further monitor the whale’s movements and behaviors. You can also report whales that are in distress or stranded to NOAA’s Maui Marine Mammal Response Program at 808-292-2372.
Image of Currier & Ives’ painting: Wikimedia Commons