Updated: September 26, 2023
A humpback whale in a “life-threatening” entanglement off Māʻalaea was freed in a multi-agency effort Tuesday, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration news release today.
The adult male had heavy-gauge line wrapped tightly around his head in front of his pectoral flippers, which would prevent feeding. Officials said it was unlikely the animal could free itself.
The gear recovered was determined to be 21 feet of 7/8” diameter, three-strand, polyblend line, the release said. It will be investigated to learn origin and to better understand entanglement risk to reduce threat.
The whale was first reported Sunday by a Blue Water Maui tour vessel, and it was monitored by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. The animal was lost among many whales in the area, the release said.
On Tuesday, PacWhale Eco-Adventures’ Ocean Voyager saw the whale and notified the sanctuary’s research vessel, Koholā, which was on the water.
Then, the multi-agency Pacific Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Team mounted an authorized response.
Responders aboard Koholā prepared a hooked knife on the end of a 30-foot carbon-fiber pole to get close enough to make a cut. After several approaches, the team was able to free the whale.
Trained network members aboard Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Protector launched monitoring and safety backup.
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa – Marine Mammal Research Program deployed drone support to help document and assess the entanglement and animal, and on several occasions was instrumental in re-locating the entangled animal, the release said.
Mariners are asked to look out for whales in distress — but not to approach closely or attempt to assist. Only trained and well-equipped responders authorized under law are permitted to assist entangled whales and other marine mammals. Immediately reporting an entangled or otherwise injured or distressed whale is the best way to help the animal, the release said.
If an injured or entangled marine mammal is detected, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or call your local DOCARE office.