Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Whale impact
ruled a mishap


Saturday, February 19, 2005

» The toll-free number for reporting whale entanglement or strandings is 888-256-9840. An incorrect number was listed in a Page A4 article Wednesday.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at corrections@starbulletin.com.

WAILUKU » A federal official says a collision between a humpback whale and a passenger ferry boat in waters off Lanai was an accident and there was no violation.

Still, Paul Newman, a federal fisheries enforcement agent, said the Feb. 6 incident should serve as a lesson to boaters, especially those who travel at more than 15 knots or 18 mph. They should drive slower in humpback whale sanctuary waters during migration season from December through May, he said.

"If you can't stop in time, you're going to get hurt," Newman said yesterday.

Newman said the whales, some weighing 30 to 40 tons, might be sleeping for 30 to 40 minutes and suddenly surface, becoming "moving reefs" to vessels. He said a fast vessel could also hurt whale calves who must surface more frequently for air.

There are no speed limits for ocean-going vessels in waters designated for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Under a federal law, boaters are required to maintain a 100-yard standoff distance from a humpback whale.

While the humpback whales remain classified as endangered species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, their numbers have been increasing and so has the number of vessels plying waters surrounding Maui County, Newman said.

Newman said the Expeditions ferry was traveling at about 21 mph and there was no blood in the water after the incident.

None of the estimated 25 passengers was injured, and the whale did not appear to have been hurt, said Stephen Knight, president and chief executive of Expeditions ferry.

Knight said the ferry captain shifted his vessel into neutral when he saw the whale rise to the surface and it appears the fluke struck the boat as the mammal dove.

He said he believes the animal was a humpback whale mother.

Knight said the ship's crew stayed nearby to see if there was any injury to the whale and they didn't see the whale surface.

The collision occurred about a mile and a half off Kamaiki Point on southeast Lanai at about 2:15 p.m. on Feb. 6, as the 65-foot-long ferry was traveling on a 16-mile leg from Lanai to Lahaina Harbor, Knight said.

Federal marine officials received notification about the incident from their regional office on Feb. 7.

Knight said the firm, doing business since 1988, has never struck a whale until this incident, although there have been some close calls.

During the previous whale season, there were three reported whale collisions with vessels in Hawaii waters.

Three-year-old Ryker Hamilton died Christmas Day 2003 after he struck his head while on a whale-watching boat in Honolulu.

On Jan. 5, 2004, a man was briefly knocked unconscious on his fishing boat after striking a whale that surfaced in front of him in waters northeast of Maui.

A kayaker reported that a recreational boat struck a whale calf about 200 to 300 yards off Puamana in West Maui on Feb. 8 of last year, according to Maui police.

Anyone witnessing a whale collision may call (800) 853-1964. For whale entanglement or strandings, call (800) 256-9840.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

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