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Fishermen Spot First Humpback Whale of the Season off South Maui

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Video Credit: Zach Schilling, Sept. 14, 2022

The first humpback whale of the 2022-23 season was spotted in South Maui today, according to Mauinow.com.

It is the earliest sighting of the beloved mammals in the past 24 years. In 2000, the first humpback whale of the new season was seen Sept. 16, according to the Pacific Whale Foundation.

At around 10 a.m. Sept. 14, Zach Schilling and Victor Carillo were fishing aboard their private boat when Schilling said they saw a 30-foot humpback breaching about a mile off of Cove Park in Kīhei.

The whale breached about four to five times, and then just started swimming north and into the wind.

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Schilling, who worked on a commercial snorkeling/whale watching boat for the past three seasons, said his two videos of the sighting are not the greatest, but show the sea creature was a humpback. The animal surfaces in one video clip and breaches in the other.

Ed Lyman with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary reviewed the video and confirmed the sighting was a humpback and not a false killer whale.

Patty Miller, Education Coordinator with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said they also received a call this morning from Andrew Scott of Wave Riders who said he saw it breach three times off of Kalama Beach Park in South Maui, but no images were provided.

The agency is tasked with reviewing video to be able to confirm that the sighting is indeed a humpback, and not a false killer whale; and multiple sightings do strengthen any evidence before confirmation is determined.

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Lyman and Dr. Marc Lammers, Research Coordinator at NOAA’s HIHWNMS provided an explanation about this early sighting of a whale in Maui waters.

Both are inclined to call it an “early season” or “preseason” sighting. “The reality is that we don’t know why this whale is here and whether he/she will linger or might be headed to Alaska. Neither of us likes the term ‘first whale of the season’ because it suggests that more whales will be here soon, which seems unlikely,” they said.

According to Lyman and Lammers, wintering whales typically only linger in Hawaiʻi a few weeks before they have to make their way back to Alaska to feed.

“So, it’s unclear why a whale would be in Hawaiʻi in September, since it will have to go back to somewhere with food relatively soon. In the end, it’s all semantics, of course. The fact is that there is a humpback in Hawaiʻi in mid-September, which is unusual, but not unheard of. We don’t know if more whales are close behind or still a few weeks off. Only time will tell,” the two said.

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According to the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, scientists estimate that as many as 12,000 humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Alaska to breed, calve and nurse their young in the warm waters of Hawai‘i.

Humpback whale season in Hawai‘i typically runs from November through May, with the greatest abundance reported between January and March. Experts say whales may be encountered in small groups during other months.

This year’s first sighting is particularly early compared with previous years.

Previous whale sighting dates include the following:

  • In 2019, the first sighting was on Oct. 9 in the ʻAuʻau Channel between Maui and Lānaʻi.
  • In 2018, the first sighting by the Pacific Whale Foundation was was made during the PWF’s Molokini Wild Side Snorkel on Oct. 8 at 8:08 a.m.
  • Dates of past first-whale sightings by the experts at Pacific Whale Foundation over the years are as follows: Oct. 9, 2017; Oct. 20, 2016; Oct. 24, 2015; Oct. 14, 2014; Oct. 5, 2013; Oct. 15, 2012; Oct. 6, 2011; Oct. 20, 2010; Oct. 20, 2009; Oct. 8, 2008; Oct. 7, 2007; Oct. 11, 2006; Nov. 11, 2005; Oct. 23, 2004; Oct. 21, 2003; Nov. 3, 2002; Oct. 31, 2001; Sept. 16, 2000; Sept. 30, 1999; and Oct. 13, 1998.

Humpback whales are protected by federal and state regulations, which prohibit vessels and other water-users from approaching humpback whales within 100 yards by any means by sea or drone and closer than 1,000 feet by aircraft.

Numbers to call for entanglements and zone approach violations:

  • To report an injured or entangled marine mammal the public can contact the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline at 1-888-256-9840
  • To report a suspected approach zone violation, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.
Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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