Posted on: December 18, 2013

Three Days, Three Whales in Need of Rescue Found by PWF Vessels

Recent "first responder" training for Pacific Whale Foundation naturalists and captains who might encounter injured or entangled whales was put to good use on three days in a row this week, as Pacific Whale Foundation vessels discovered and responded to three different whales in trouble.  

December 14, 2013
On Saturday, December 14, Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Freedom encountered a subadult humpback whale with an injured fluke about 3 miles off Launiopoko during an early afternoon whalewatch. According to Captain Carl Favre the whale was missing about two-thirds of the left side of its fluke. What remained of the left fluke was pink and white and very curled over. The injured whale was with a second larger whale, which the injured whale trailed behind. 
"Our crew didn't see any signs of entanglement, which is why we wondered how the whale was injured," said marine biologist Lauren Campbell, Conservation Manager at Pacific Whale Foundation. "Its overall health condition appeared poor." 
Following the protocol studied during their first responder training, Pacific Whale Foundation's captain and naturalists on Ocean Freedom reported the sighting to Ed Lyman, Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Lyman and his team mounted a response to assist with the whale. While waiting for the rescue team, Ocean Freedom was relieved by the vessel Wiki Wahine, operated by Ultimate Whalewatch. Later, during the handoff to the rescue team, the vessels lost sight of the whale and it was not located again. 
December 15, 2014
On Sunday, December 15 at 9:16 am, Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Discovery found an entangled humpback whale calf in the company of its mother and an escort whale. 
Pacific Whale Foundation's captain and naturalists called Lyman at the Sanctuary and monitored the whale until the rescue team arrived.  "The calf had a tight wrap(s) of small gauge line wrapped very tightly around its body just forward of its pectoral flippers," reported Lyman in a follow-up email. "The line(s) were already deeply embedded into the body."

According to Lyman's report, the whale's wound was encrusted with light and orange-colored cyamid amphipods (whale lice). Whale lice also were sighted along the animal’s mouth line. No gear was seen trailing. Light chafe wounds from small gauge line were observed on the left side of the whale's head and a 1” deep notch wound was found on the dorsal surface of the calf's tailstock. Otherwise, the animal appeared okay and was quite mobile.

"A response effort was conducted 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. "Several attempts were made using a fixed, hooked knife on a long carbon-fiber pole system to reach out and cut the wrap(s) encircling the animal."

"The knife may have made contact with the gear twice, but the entanglement remained," he noted. "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 was aborted as the animals became more evasive, the escort a bit aggressive and the weather deteriorated. Boaters are asked to watch for the calf, as its entanglement poses a threat to its life. 
Post-publication note: This calf has been successfully rescued. Learn more a

December 16, 2014
A third whale in trouble was found on Monday, December 16, again by Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Discovery. The whale -- a lone subadult -- was sighted at 6:30 am during Pacific Whale Foundation's sunrise whalewatch cruise. The captain and crew reported the entanglement to Ed Lyman and then stood by to monitor the animal, then transferred the watch over to Pacific Whale Foundation's vessel Ocean Freedom and Ultimate Whale Watch's vessel Wiki Wahine, both of whom stayed with the whale for an hour while awaiting NOAA response.
 The individual had several wraps of red-colored, small gauge line around its tailstock and fluke blades, with another 60 feet of trailing line. The light-colored whale was slightly emaciated, and had deep notch wounds along the dorsal ridge of the tailstock. The NOAA vessel Koholā responded, however after initial approaches the animal’s behavior changed.  The whale was eventually lost before further action could be taken.
Pacific Whale Foundation Vessel Program Manager Blake Moore is part of the Sanctuary's Marine Mammal Response Team and was on the NOAA vessel to assist with the rescue. 
The response team, along with assistance from several tour vessels, searched for the animal, but were unable to re-locate it. 

The animal's entanglement is considered life threatening.

All mariners are asked to keep a sharp look out for all three animals. If at any time an entangled whale is spotted, individuals should contact the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at (888) 256-9840 and collect as much information about the whale as possible. Pictures and videos will also help response teams better assess the situation. 
The First Responder Training hosted by Pacific Whale Foundation last week was conducted by Ed Lyman. It was part of a free evening training program for Maui boat operators that included Pacific Whale Foundation's "Be Whale Aware" training, to help vessel operators navigate safely around whales during the winter months in Hawaii and prevent vessel-whale collisions. 
Two Pacific Whale Foundation staff have participated in more extensive training to be part of the Sanctuary's Marine Mammal Response Team and volunteer aboard NOAA's rescue vessel Kohola. Vessel Programs Manager Blake Moore and Captain Casey Cohan are the two staff trained and able to participate in these rescues. 
"We want our team to have the utmost readiness for anything that might come their way," says Moore. "This week's series of events shows the value of the training we provide." 

“From the time an entanglement is reported, it takes an average of two hours for the NOAA team to arrive on the scene,” noted Campbell,  “The importance of  the first responder training to assist the NOAA team in understanding the extent of the entanglement and to keep track of the whale until they can arrive cannot be overstated."

"An average of seven whales are confirmed entangled in Hawai’i waters each winter," said Campbell. "We're a little over a month into our whalewatch season at Pacific Whale Foundation and already our vessels have confirmed four entanglements in Maui County waters." 

While the recent spike in reported entanglements reminds boaters to keep an extra special lookout for entangled whales, Ed Lyman said that there is not necessarily need for panic.

“Compared to the overall North Pacific humpback whale population, entanglement rates in Hawai’i are still considered “rare” events, and the recent incidences do not necessarily indicate that the rate of entanglement is increasing,” said Lyman.  “It will be interesting to see what happens throughout the rest of the season.”

Lyman also noted that increased cooperation and vigilance on the part of boat operators may also play a role in the recent reports. 

“An increasing number of boat operators are being trained to recognize distressed and entangled whales, and are aware of the appropriate steps to take once the whale is spotted,” explained Lyman. 

Although fishing gear is implicated in the majority of Hawai’i entanglement incidences, whales can also become entangled in moorings, anchors and marine debris. 

From a conservation standpoint, Campbell believes that the issue of entanglement is important in helping the public better understand the impact that humans have on the ocean environment. 

“While entanglement does not threaten the North Pacific humpback whale on a population level, we are concerned that this is an additional threat added to a long and growing list of human-induced impacts," she said. "We definitely aren’t making it any easier for whales, and need to figure out ways in which to minimize these threats.”

"The entire Maui boating community has rallied around these animals," she says. "I’ve been impressed to see such passion, teamwork and dedication out on the water.”

She urges all boaters to remain on high alert over the next few days to search for the entangled and injured whale. 

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