An entangled adult humpback whale was freed by a team of trained responders off Makena Beach, Maui, on Friday.
The animal was trailing more than 285 feet of 3/8 braided line from its mouth. All gear was successfully removed and recovered. Gear will be analyzed towards determining its possible origins and trying to reduce entanglement threat in the future. The whale was first reported Thursday, Jan. 11 at 11:40 a.m. by the captain of the fishing vessel Layla.
By 1:35 pm, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s response vessel, Kohola, arrived with a full response team.
The team launched an inflatable from the Kohola and approached the whale to get a better assessment of the entanglement. The whale, however, became quite active. Once it calmed down, the team in the inflatable was able to attach a buoy halfway up the trailing gear and remove approximately 110 feet of line.
The team tried to pull the remaining gear from the whale’s mouth, but was unsuccessful. With sunset approaching, a tracking buoy was added to the remaining gear. On the morning of Friday, Jan. 12, the responders relocated the whale with the help of the tracking buoy. The team once again deployed the inflatable and took a very slow, methodical approach in re-acquiring the trailing gear running from the right side of the whale’s mouth in the hopes of keeping it calm.
The team eventually moved to within 50 feet of the animal as it hung below the inflatable in a favorable position with its head oriented towards the surface. With steady tension on the line and the head-up-orientation, the team was able to pull the remaining gear from the animal’s mouth.
On release, the animal immediately breached several times. The support boat attempted to stay with the animal as the approach team collected the gear. With the removal of gear, it is believed that the humpback whale has an excellent chance of surviving.
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.