Coast Guard assists NOAA in whale disentanglement off Maui

Coast Guard crewmembers from Station Maui assist National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration members to disentangle a humpback whale off Molokini, Maui, March 6, 2019.
The crews were able to cut off about 100 feet of line and a buoy the whale was dragging. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Sedberry/Released)


Coast Guard crewmembers from Station Maui assist National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration members to disentangle a humpback whale off Molokini, Maui, March 6, 2019.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles Sedberry)

HONOLULU — The Coast Guard assisted National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration members in disentangling a humpback whale off Maui, Wednesday.

The sub-adult mammal was freed of an estimated 500 feet of heavy gauge line by a team of trained responders off of Mākena Beach South Maui.

Representatives with the Coast Guard, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service learned the entangled animal had the line through its mouth forming a bridle.

“The team made several cuts, removing almost all the line, and greatly increased the animal’s chances of survival,” said Ed Lyman, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. “However, a small amount of gear could not be pulled from the whale’s mouth and thus remains. The recovered gear will be analyzed towards determining its possible origins and trying to reduce entanglement threat in the future.”

The report of the entanglement came in at around 9:10 a.m. from a Maui Dive Shop vessel and Coast Guard Station Maui launched a 45-foot Response Boat-Medium.

By 10:40 a.m., the Coast Guard crew arrived on the scene, assessed the animal and entanglement, and deployed a working line with a tracking beacon attached.

The sanctuary’s response vessel, Koholā, followed with the rest of the team and gear. In the interim, many vessels, including the Makakoa, Redline, Maui Magic, Bluewater Rafting, fishing vessel Piper, Maui Diamond II, and PacWhale Eco Adventure vessel Ocean Explorer, assisted by monitoring the animal and relaying information while the response team was en route.

The sanctuary’s response vessel Koholā arrived soon after with the rest of the team and launched an inflatable boat.

“A team of responders in the inflatable approached the whale, grabbed the working line, and pulled themselves up behind the animal. At this point, one line of the bridle was cut and untwisted, but the line was too deeply embedded in the mouth to pull free,” said Lyman.

At 12:30 p.m., with seas building, another approach was made within feet of the whale’s tail, to cut the other side of the bridle as far forward as possible.

“The pair of cuts removed as much line as possible, along with all the trailing buoys. Only a small amount of gear in the whale’s mouth and trailing along its sides were left providing the animal with an excellent chance of surviving,” said Lyman. “This was a successful operation that involved the efforts of many – a team effort. Mahalo to all.”

In a joint statement, experts advise mariners to keep a sharp lookout for whales in distress but recommend not to approach closely or attempt to assist them. Only trained and well-equipped responders are authorized under NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are permitted to help whales and other marine mammals for the animal’s protection and the safety of the responders.

If any marine mammal is sighted in distress, the public is asked to maintain a 100-yard distance and call the NOAA 24-hour Hotline at 1-888 256-9840. If unable to call, radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Ch.16 and the report will be relayed.

The public is reminded it is illegal to approach a humpback whale closer than 100 yards by any means at sea and 1,000 feet by aircraft.

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