COURTESY NOAA FISHERIES PERMIT NO. 782-1719
This photo shows the calf had a large gash, which penetrated the skin and underlying blubber, above one of its pectoral fins, and smaller gashes on the fin.
Collision injures whale calf
The injuries inflicted from a few days to a few weeks ago are judged life-threatening
Another collision between a boat and whale is prompting fisheries officials to urge boaters to exercise caution when operating in Hawaii waters during the whale season.
Anyone who sees an injured or entangled whale is urged to call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 888-256-9840.
So far this year, there have been five collisions with humpback whales, four in waters off Maui and one off Kauai, said David Schofield, of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The latest collision happened Wednesday, about 1.5 miles south of Maui's Maalaea Harbor. A boater spotted an apparently injured calf hovering near the surface.
The calf is believed to be a few months old and 12 to 15 feet long.
The boater contacted the Coast Guard, who called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Hotline. A Dolphin Institute research vessel nearby heard the call and went to monitor the calf until a team from the Whale Disentanglement Network arrived.
Underwater photographs showed the calf had a large gash, which penetrated the skin and underlying blubber, above one of its pectoral fins, and smaller gashes on the fin -- telltale signs of an encounter with a boat propeller, Schofield said.
The injury did not appear fresh, and might have occurred between a few days to a few weeks earlier, he said.
Schofield said the injury is potentially life-threatening, but he ordered no action taken because although the calf was moving slowly, it was swimming freely with its mother.
"There's a potential that this is an animal that could survive this type of injury, but the sharks might get it," Schofield said.
The disentanglement team reported seeing three tiger sharks hovering nearby. But four adult whales, including the calf's mother, appeared to be protecting the young whale. Officials will not know the calf's fate until the whale is spotted again.
Schofield said boaters should be on the lookout for whales during the winter months when humpback whales arrive to breed, give birth and nurse their young.
"The reality of the situation is these animals could come up quickly. The calves are unpredictable. They're like children. They're not always doing what they should be doing," he said.