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Entangled Humpback Whale Freed off Lahaina

Photo credit: Davis/NOAA

On Monday an entangled adult humpback whale was freed by a team of trained responders off Lahaina, Maui.

The animal was trailing approximately 400 feet of heavy gauge line from its mouth. All gear was successfully removed and recovered. The gear will be measured and analyzed towards determining its possible origins and trying to reduce entanglement threat in the future.

The response was part of an effort by responders from the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Office, NOAA Corps, and the West Maui response team. The team of responders is authorized under NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (NOAA MMHSRP permit # 18786-02 and state PMAL-2018-205).

The whale was first reported on at 11:50 a.m. by the crew aboard an Ultimate Whale Watch boat, Wahine Kai.

At 1:20 p.m. 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 1:30 p.m. 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 2:30 p.m. 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 4 p.m. 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 4:46 p.m. 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.

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 NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are permitted to assist whales and other marine mammals.

If you sight any marine mammal in distress, maintain 100 yards distance and please call the NOAA 24-hour Hotline at 1-888 256-9840. If unable to call, please radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16 and they will relay the report.

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

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