None injured in season's first collision with whale
Officials say a collision between a humpback whale and a whale-watching vessel 12 miles off Maui on Jan. 2 is a reminder that Hawaii boaters should slow down and keep a sharp lookout during the winter whale season.
The strike was a "sideswipe" that did not harm anyone aboard the boat and did not appear to harm the adult whale, said Judith Fogarty, special agent in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office for Law Enforcement.
It was the first reported whale-boat collision of the current whale season.
A NOAA enforcement officer interviewed passengers and crew on the boat after the noontime incident as part of a standard whale strike investigation, Fogarty said yesterday.
The collision happened after the boat completed a morning whale-watching session and was returning to Lahaina at 14 to 15 mph, Fogarty said yesterday.
Fogarty said she will not release the name of the tour company operating the boat until the NOAA investigation is completed. Humpback whales are an endangered species, and boats are prohibited from intentionally coming within 100 yards of one, unless they have a NOAA scientific permit.
An estimated 6,000 whales typically spend November to May in Hawaii to nurse their young and mate. During peak season, NOAA enforcement and Coast Guard officers conduct extra patrols for the safety of whales and boaters.
"These whales can weigh as much as 45 tons," said Naomi McIntosh, manager of NOAA's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which is managed in partnership with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. "A collision with such a massive animal can have devastating consequences for all involved. By watching their speed, staying at the helm and remaining extra-vigilant, Hawaii's boaters can enjoy their time on the water and help us protect these animals."
NOAA does want to hear from Hawaii boaters if they do strike a whale, so that scientists can record where, how and when the collision happened, Fogarty said. She emphasized that the agency has never fined any boater in Hawaii who struck a whale by accident.
According to the whale sanctuary:
» During the 2003-04 season, a Maui fisherman was knocked unconscious after his boat collided with a whale near Wailuku, and a vessel-whale collision appears to have been a factor in the death of a boy aboard a whale-watch boat off Oahu.
» A humpback calf appeared in Maui waters last March with deep, regularly spaced cuts in its back, indicating interaction with a ship's propeller. And a ferry struck a whale on its way to Lanai from Lahaina last February.
New warning signs are going up at key harbors next week, said Jeff Walters, sanctuary co-manager.
A WHALE OF A COUNT
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will use volunteers to count humpback whales off the islands of Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu on the last Saturdays in January, February and March. For information about the sanctuary count, call 888-55-WHALE or see hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/volunteer_program/ocean_count.html.
The Great Whale Count on Maui is conducted independently by the Pacific Whale Foundation. For information about the foundation count, see www.pacificwhale.org/internships/volunteer.html.