Posted on: November 15, 2011

“Be Whale Aware” and “Large Whale Disentanglement First Responder” Training Offered

Now that the humpback whales are officially back in Hawaii’s waters, it’s time for all boaters and ocean users to “Be Whale Aware” – to keep an extra eye out for whales and to operate in a safe manner around these endangered marine mammals.

Tour operators, boaters, vessel operators and all who spend time on
the ocean are invited to a free “Be Whale Aware” training program that
will take place on Monday, November 21, from 5 pm to 6:30 pm at
Pacific Whale Foundation’s Discovery Center at the Harbor Shops at
Ma’alaea. The program will include a review of Pacific Whale
Foundation’s recent research which evaluates the potential for vessel
– whale collisions in Maui County waters, presented by Dr. Daniela
Maldini, Chief Scientist at Pacific Whale Foundation.

Pacific Whale Foundation President and Founder Greg Kaufman will
provide a review of Federal laws regarding approaches to humpback
whales as well as Pacific Whale Foundation’s “Be Whale Aware”
guidelines which include recommendations on vessel speeds, as well as
whalewatching techniques that minimize disturbances to whales.

Attendees will also receive large whale disentanglement first
responder training presented by Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale
National Marine Sanctuary Marine Mammal Response Manager Ed Lyman.
According to Lyman, this training will re-visit the important roles
that the tour industry and other ocean users can safely play in
supporting disentanglement efforts, review some past rescues, and
answer questions.

Preventing Whale Collisions For the Safety of Whales and
People

“Collisions between whales and vessels are a growing problem
worldwide,” notes Greg Kaufman. “As the population of whales in
Hawai‘i has grown, so have interactions between whales and boats.
These have ranged from curious whales bumping and lifting boats to
collisions that have left clear evidence of injury.”

The evening will include a presentation of the latest results from
Pacific Whale Foundation’s Researcher on Board research project in
Hawai’i. Through this project, a Pacific Whale Foundation researcher
is stationed on Pacific Whale Foundation’s ecotour vessels during the
winter months, as an observer and to collect data. Using a handheld
GPS device, the researcher records the vessel’s track and, at regular
intervals, the number of humpback whales found within a mile radius
from the boat.

The researcher also records “surprise encounters”, which are
encounters with a humpback whale that occur closer than 300 yards from
the boat without having previously being detected by the captain and
crew.  When a “surprise encounter” occurs, the time, location, number
of whales involved, the distance from the boat at first detection, sex
and age class of the whale(s) are recorded.

During 2011, 2,464 humpback whale sightings including 133 (3%)
surprise encounters were recorded. Findings suggest vessel speed is
important and that the probability of incurring in a near miss
increases by approximately 8% with an increase in one knot of boat
speed.

Pacific Whale Foundation presented a paper on this study, titled
“Whale Surprise Encounters and Near Misses: Proxies of Vessel Strikes
in Maui County Waters” at the 2011 International Whaling Commission
Scientific Committee Meeting.  To download the paper, visit
http://www.pacificwhale.org/sites/pacificwhale.org/files/Whale_near_miss...

“To educate vessel operators and other ocean users about best practice
guidelines for safely operating watercraft around humpback whales and
dolphins, Pacific Whale Foundation conducts its annual “Be Whale
Aware” training programs, free of charge, to members of the Maui
community,” says Kaufman.  “The ‘Be Whale Aware’ guidelines advocate
that vessels follow all state and federal laws regarding approaches to
whales, and in addition, maintain a lookout from December through May
when traveling in areas where whales are present, adopt reduced
speeds, avoid approaching whales from in front or directly behind the
animals and take other steps to reduce the risk of collisions.”

A Community Dedicated to Supporting Disentanglement Rescues

The free program also includes training by Ed Lyman to teach boaters
to serve as effective first responders to entangled whales.

Ed Lyman notes that scar analysis indicates that many whales get
entangled, but may eventually free themselves of entangling gear.
Those that remain entangled, may, due to their great size, pull or
even break away from parts of the entangling gear and thus avoid
drowning immediately. However, the threat still remains. Entanglement
may impede feeding, leading to starvation; cause physical trauma from
the injuries, which can lead to infection and death; and/ or hinder
movement, increasing the risk of ship strikes.

“The fact that large whales are not typically in immediate danger
means that we may have time to disentangle them,” Lyman notes.
“However, freeing a 40-ton, often free-swimming animal is no easy
task. The act of disentangling a large whale is dangerous for the
whale and rescuers alike.”

“Over the years it has become apparent that an experienced,
well-trained and well-outfitted team, working with the boating
community, is necessary to safely carry out disentanglement efforts on
large animals, like humpback whales,” he says.

“Over the past couple of years, trained disentanglement teams in
Hawaii have freed 16 large whales from life threatening
entanglements,” Lyman notes. “The foundation of this effort is the
on-water community who report and verify entanglements, provide
assessment and documentation, assist in monitoring, and if action is
necessary and appropriate, stand by. The support of the on-water
community is critical.”

To learn more about the Be Whale Aware program
and Whale Disentanglement First Responder Training, please call
Pacific Whale Foundation at (808) 856-8322 or email
Merrill@pacificwhale.org.