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Sanctuaries Assist in Saving Humpback Whale

photo of whale entagled in debris.
Underwater image of humpback whale with entanglement. Fixed knife on pole shown center right. (Photo Credit: HIHWNMS/ NOAA MMHSRP permit # 932-1905)

On Monday, March 11, a team of specially trained rescuers freed an entangled male humpback whale near Lahaina in the waters of NOAA's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, saving the animal from a potentially life-threatening predicament.

Initially spotted by the tour vessel Man-of-War and a U.S. Coast Guard aircraft on March 8, the whale was reported to have several wraps of small-gauge line cutting into its tail. An immediate response was launched, and while the responders were not able to remove all the gear by the end of the day, they did cut free approximately 40 feet of trailing line. A satellite tag buoy was attached to the whale, and on Monday the team relocated the animal between Kaho'olawe and Lana'i and removed the rest of the entangling gear. In total, two buoys and more than 200 feet of line were recovered. The primary buoy was gone, making identification of the gear unlikely.

The response effort, working under NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, was led by Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in close cooperation with the NOAA Fisheries Service. Additional partners including the Coast Guard, NOAA Corps, Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission, West Maui Rapid Response Team, MacGillivray Freeman Films (currently filming an IMAX film on humpback whales), researchers, several tour and charter boat companies, and many others.

Only three humpback whales have been reported and confirmed entangled this season - just one-third of the number typically reported by this time of the season. Monday's efforts of various government agencies and ocean users working together represents the first successful response of the 2012-2013 whale season - one that everyone should be very proud of. Entanglement continues to be one of the primary threats to humpback whales and other cetaceans worldwide.

The sanctuary, administered by a partnership of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the state of Hawai'i through the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), protects humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaiian waters, where they migrate each winter to mate, calve and nurse their young.

For information please contact Christine Brammer at 808-224-6444.

Photo Gallery:

whale movie 1
Video of rescuers using rope to assist with whale disentanglement.

whale movie 1
Video of cutting pole going under water to cut the rope but doesn't succeed.

whale movie 1
Video of cutting pole successfully freeing the whale.

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