Big Challenge Returns to Hawaiian Island Waters

U.S. Coast Guard feature story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric J. Chandler

On the morning of November 21st, 2012, a group of specialists arrive at Coast Guard Station Maui to face an annual challenge here in the Hawaiian Islands. Humpback whale season is beginning, and this assembly of scientists and first responders prepare to combine their skills, in an effort to aid marine mammals that have been entangled in fishing gear or suffered from vessel collisions.

Humpback whales complete their annual migration to the most isolated archipelago in the world each year, usually between November and April. During these months they remain in the waters surrounding Hawaii to breed, give birth and nurse their young. While transiting to or living in the Hawaiian Islands, it is common to receive reports of injured humpback whales, or animals entangled in various kinds of large fishing gear like nets and lines.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Lundy and Seaman Darren Park, both from Coast Guard Station Honolulu, watch as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration members remove line caught on a yearling whale in waters west of Molokai, Hawaii.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Program leads the effort to respond to entangled or injured humpback whales. The Coast Guard and the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources work together with NOAA to respond to reports.

Entanglement and ship strikes are some of the primary threats to large whales, like the humpback. Since 2002, combined response efforts have freed 16 whales from life-threatening entanglements and more than a mile of gear has been removed from the animals.

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