Posted on: December 10, 2012

Be Whale Aware 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 in order to operate safely around these 40-ton 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, December 9 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Discovery Center on the ocean-level of the Ma'alaea Harbor Shops.  The program will include 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. 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 attendees' questions.
 
Preventing Whale Collisions For the Safety of Whales and People
 
"The good news is that the population of humpback whales has been increasing by 5 to 7% in the North Pacific, including Alaska and Hawaii," says Greg Kaufman, founder and Executive Director of Pacific Whale Foundation. “With more whales in Hawaii each winter, there are more chances that whales and boats will interact. Our goal is to help ensure that boaters travel safely around  whales, and that all who watch whales -- from all sizes of vessels, including single-person craft -- do so in ways that prevent disruption to the whales."  
 
The training program is provided free of charge to vessel operators and other ocean users, as a way to share the best practice guidelines that Pacific Whale Foundation has developed during more than three decades of whalewatching around Maui. A set of "Be Whale Aware" guidelines will be provided to each attendee. The guidelines advocate that vessels follow all state and federal laws regarding approaches to whales, and urge boat operators to take additional measures from December through May in Hawaii, including maintaining a constant lookout when traveling in the four-island region, reducing vessel speed and avoiding approaching whales from in front or directly behind the animals. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation will also distribute colorful reminder stickers about the federal laws that prohibit approaches by any means (from kayaks to cruise ships) to within 100 yards of a humpback whale in Hawaii. Some of the stickers are designed to adhere to paddleboards, kayaks and vessel wheelhouses. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation has equipped its catamarans with Whale Protection Devices to guide whales away from propellers and running gear. Each Pacific Whale Foundation vessel is also required to post a red and yellow flag when the vessel is engaged in watching one or more whales, to alert other boaters to slow down because whales are in the area.   
 
Based on Scientific Research
 
The evening will include information on Pacific Whale Foundation's past and current scientific studies of humpback whales off the coast of Maui and how the resulting data can help boat operators to navigate safely in whale waters. 
 
For example, through Pacific Whale Foundation's "Researcher on Board" study in 2011, 2,464 humpback whale sightings including 133 (3%) surprise encounters were recorded. Findings from the study suggest vessel speed is important in avoiding collisions with whales; the probability of incurring  a near miss or a collision 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.  
 
This year, Pacific Whale Foundation's research team will be working aboard the nonprofit's dedicated research vessel Ocean Protector to document humpback whales in the region between Maui, Moloka‘i, Läna‘i and Kaho‘olawe as part of a study permitted by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 
 
“Through our study, we are identifying ‘hot spots’ where it’s especially important for vessels to keep a watchful eye for whales and maintain reduced speeds,” says Kaufman. 
 
Pacific Whale Foundation researchers will be photo-identifying individual whales and collecting data on age classes, gender (when apparent), pod compositions and group sizes of the whales encountered. “We want to understand which whales — males, females, calves, older whales — are likely to surface unexpectedly around boats,” says Kaufman. Data from this year's study will be presented at next year's Be Whale Aware training program. 
 
 
Supporting Disentanglement Rescues
 
The December 9th program will also include training by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary's Marine Mammal Response Manager 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. “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) 856-8304 or email conservation@pacificwhale.org. 
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