Posted on: December 19, 2013

Entangled Humpback Whale Calf Rescued Off Lana'i

A humpback whale calf was freed of a life-threatening entanglement yesterday, December 18, off the coast of Lana'i. 

The calf had small gauge line tightly wrapped around its body just forward of its pectoral fins. The line was already deeply embedded into the animal's body at the time of rescue. The entanglement was considered life threatening because a calf grows so rapidly.  
The calf was rescued by Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and his response team, which included trained personnel from the Sanctuary, the NOAA Corps, NOAA Fisheries, and the U.S. Coast Guard. The team worked aboard the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s response vessel, Kohola. 
It took three tries and a specially designed knife to cut the wrap that entangled the animal. The line was removed at 4:21 pm. 
The calf had originally been sighted off Maui on Sunday, December 15 at 9:16 am by Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Discovery. On Sunday, the entangled humpback whale calf was in the company of its mother and an escort whale. 
Upon sighting the whale on Sunday, Pacific Whale Foundation's captain and naturalists called Ed Lyman at the Sanctuary and monitored the whale until the rescue team arrived. 
"A response effort was conducted (on Sunday) by the trained and authorized team represented by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Corps, NOAA Fisheries (PIRO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission, Pacific Whale Foundation and Ultimate Whale Watch," said Lyman in a follow-up email about the rescue attempt. 
The Sanctuary rescue team made several attempts on Sunday to cut the line on the animal. The team used a fixed, hooked knife on a long carbon-fiber pole system to reach out and  try to cut the wrap(s) encircling the animal. "The knife may have made contact with the gear twice, but the entanglement remained," reported Lyman in a follow-up email report. "It is hoped that the gear was at least “nicked” by the knife and will come apart at a later time."
Lyman said that the rescue effort on Sunday was aborted as the animals became more evasive, the escort a bit aggressive and the weather deteriorated. 

Casey Cohan, who works as a captain at Pacific Whale Foundation, had successfully completed  NOAA training to assist as a captain on the rescue vessel and was onboard on Sunday as a back-up captain. 
He noted that the team strategized after the unsuccessful rescue attempts about what they would need to do to remove the tightly wound line on the calf. 
On Wednesday, December 18, Captain Pat Stenger of the vessel Na Pali Explorer sighted the calf about 3/4 mile off the coast of Lana'i near Manele Bay and contacted NOAA.  This time, the calf was just with its mother; no escort was present. 
Captain Casey Cohan, who was the captain of Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Odyssey during its Molokini-Lanai Snorkel Cruise on Wednesday, was alerted about the whale by NOAA and drove Ocean Odyssey to investigate the calf sighting. He was able to provide positive identification that the  calf was the same animal that the NOAA team had attempted to rescue on Sunday. He also noted that the mother and calf were quite mellow, and that the weather conditions were getting nicer and nicer. 
Cohan said that Safari Explorer sent out one of their skiffs from Manele Harbor to help monitor the calf so that Ocean Odyssey could bring its onboard customers back to Maui. Later, Na Pali Explorer returned and stayed with the whale until NOAA arrived. Trilogy IV and Hawaii Whale Research Foundation also helped monitor the whale. 
"Everybody was working together," said Cohan. "It was really cool that all of the boat companies helped out." 
"The calf made a couple of close passes by the boats and at least a few of the boat captains wondered aloud if there was anything that could be possibly done, given that the line was so tight and so deeply embedded in the calf," said Cohan. 
In a follow-up email report, Lyman offered special thanks to Grant Thompson for designing and fabricating the knife that cut the animal free. He also thanked the U.S Coast Guard for their continued assistance.  He also thanked the Maui Adventure Cruises vessel, Explorer, Safari Explorer and Hawaii Whale Research Foundation, and the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Odyssey for working together to monitor the animal while a response was mounted. 
Pacific Whale Foundation's captains and naturalists have completed First Responder Training provided by Ed Lyman, and follow protocol about handling entangled or injured whales in need of rescue. 
During the past five days, Pacific Whale Foundation vessels have served as first responders to four encounters with entangled or injured whales, including two with the recently rescued calf. Details can be found at

Note: Photos provided by Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, MMHSRP permit #932-1905