Coast Guard, Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conduct Operation Kohola Guardian patrol off Maui

Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336), along with officers from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources conduct a joint patrol for Operation Kohola Guardian to ensure the safety of mariners operating off Maui in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Feb. 11, 2016. The teams conducted safety and compliance boardings on recreational and commercial vessels to inform the public of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle/Released)

Coast Guard members from Station Maui and the USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336) conduct a joint patrol for Operation Kohola Guardian  Feb. 11, 2016.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle/Released)

LAHAINA, Maui — Coast Guard crews with Hawaii Department of Natural Resources conservation officers conducted joint patrols off Maui Thursday in conjunction with Operation Kohola Guardian.

Through joint recreational safety and compliance boardings and outreach the team, aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Kiska (WPB1336) and a Coast Guard Station Maui 45-foot Response Boat-Medium, informed the crews of multiple vessels operating in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of the requirements to avoid coming too close to whales or impeding the whales’ path.

Crews aboard an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point also conducted an aerial patrol of the area and reported any sighting of vessels getting too close to whales to the cutter and boat crews to conduct outreach.

Every year humpback whales winter in Hawaii to find mates and bear calves. The main Hawaiian Islands may contain the largest seasonal population of North Pacific humpbacks in the world. Of the 21,000 humpback whales in existence, the population that uses Hawaii’s waters as their principle wintering ground is likely more than 10,000 animals. They are an endangered species.

“It is the migration and concentration of whales that draws many tourists to Hawaii and drives a significant amount of commercial vessel traffic into the waters off Maui. The Coast Guard works with our partners, DLNR and NOAA, to inform the public and promote responsible use of the waterways,” said Eric Roberts, marine resource specialist, Coast Guard 14th District. “Operation Kohala Guardian is designed to inform the public of the regulations governing interaction with protracted marine species and deter operators from deliberately getting close to these animals, which is illegal.”

Mariners and visitors are reminded:

~ Keep a Sharp Lookout — Vessel operators should always stay vigilant for whales and other collision hazards. Look out ahead for puffs of mist, dorsal fins, tails, etc. Operators are further advised to post at least one dedicated whale lookout, in addition to the operator, from November through May.

~ Watch Your Speed — The Coast Guard recommend vessels travel at a slow, safe speed in areas where a whale strike may occur. This speed depends on vessel type, time of day, sea conditions, and other factors that affect whale detection and avoidance. Research shows that collisions occurring at vessel speeds above 10 knots cause more whale deaths and serious injuries than collisions occurring at slower speeds.

~ Stay at the Helm — Keep hands on the wheel and throttle at all times, and be ready to take action immediately to avoid a whale in your path.

~ Keep Your Distance — Once whales are sighted, stay more than 100 yards away.

~ Stop Immediately — If within 100 yards or less of a humpback whale. Leave engines running, out of gear (in neutral) until the whale moves away.

~ Pass Astern of Whales — While maintaining more than 100 yards distance, if you encounter whales in your path, do not attempt to run out in front of whales to get past them.

~ Warn Other Vessels — Use appropriate VHF radio protocol or other means to alert other vessels that may not be aware of whales in their path.

~ Don’t Assume Whales See You or Will Move — Calves are especially vulnerable since they are curious and may not have learned to be cautious of vessels.

~ Plan Ahead for Delays — Avoiding whales may take time. Build in some buffer and avoid nighttime operations if possible.

~ Call the NOAA Hotline if Involved in a Collision at 1-888-256-9840 — If a phone call is not possible, hail the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16.

~ Hands Off — Never touch, handle or ride marine wildlife. Touching wildlife, or attempting to do so, can injure the animal, put you at risk and may also be illegal for certain species.

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