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Watch: Entangled Male Humpback Whale Freed Off Maui Waters

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A NOAA-led team of trained responders freed an entangled male humpback whale just outside Maʻalaea, Maui, in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, officials confirmed this afternoon.

The whale was first reported on March 13 by a Blue Water Maui tour vessel. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) monitored the animal until the Ultimate Whale Watch response vessel, Aloha Kai, arrived to assess the entanglement. Unfortunately, the animal was lost among the many whales in the area before a disentanglement could be launched.

On Tuesday, March 15, PacWhale Eco-Adventures’ Ocean Voyager sighted the whale and hailed the sanctuary’s research vessel, Koholā, which was already on the water collecting humpback whale population health data. The multi-agency Pacific Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Team mounted an authorized response.

Entangled whale breaches. Image credit: Stack/ Pacific Whale Foundation/NOAA MMHSRP (permit no. 18786-06)
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According to NOAA officials, the adult animal had a life-threatening entanglement of heavy gauge line wrapped tightly around his head in front of his pectoral flippers, which would prevent feeding. The location of the entanglement, and size and type of line (a poly blend), meant that the animal would likely not be able to free itself.

Trained network members aboard Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Protector provided monitoring and safety support. The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa – Marine Mammal Research Program provided drone support, to help document and assess the entanglement and animal, and on several occasions was instrumental in re-locating the entangled animal.

Responders aboard Koholā prepared a hooked knife on the end of a 30-foot carbon-fiber pole to get close enough to make a cut. After several approaches, the team was able to free the whale. The gear was recovered and determined to be 21 feet of 7/8-inch diameter, 3-strand, poly-blend line. The recovered gear will be investigated to determine its origin and use to better understand the entanglement risk and its impacts in order to reduce the threat.

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The response team for both sightings included Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Pacific Whale Foundation, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa – Marine Mammal Research Program, Cardinal Point Captains, the Ultimate Whale Watch trained response team, NOAA OLE, and Trilogy Excursions. Shoreside support was provided by NOAA Fisheries, NOAA Corps, and the state of Hawaiʻi Division of Aquatic Resources.

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