Featured Image Credit: Jessica Kittel, Island Dream Productions
By Jessica Kittel
A Young humpback whale was recently rescued from entanglement off of Maui thanks to a coordinated effort by members of the Coast Guard, responders from the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Maui Ocean Safety, Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission, and NOAA’s West Maui entanglement response team. This humpback was the third entangled whale to be rescued in Hawaiian waters this season. The others were found off the island of Kauai and the Big Island. This particular whale was able to swim off with a much better chance at surviving than before his or her run in with this coalition of ocean responders.
This particular situation was not an easy one for the team. After the first sighting of the whale, witnesses were able to determine that the humpback in question was entangled in gear exiting both sides of the mouth. It certainly sounds rather gruesome to behold. Unfortunately for the whale and the response team, the initial efforts to liberate the whale weren’t successful.
The entanglement itself was a little tricky. The cable was looped through the mouth so that the line was coming through the mandible then out the opposite side. The cable found in this whale’s mouth was PVC-insulated electrical- type cable and the source is yet unknown. This whale likely acquired this rather uncomfortable addition while lunge feeding in Alaska. When lunge feeding, humpback whales open their mouths very wide (greater than a 90 degree angle). It is likely that, while coming up to the surface with an open mouth, there was debris in the water and this cable was lodged in like a piece of dental floss.
Luckily, the whale was seen again, in the same area, the day following the first attempt. This time the response team was able to use special cutters to cut the cables. An estimated 500 feet of cable was removed from the whale, leaving very little behind. Roughly 70 feet of cable had already embedded too deeply in the back of the mouth the pull out without causing the animal more harm than good.
While slightly emaciated, this humpback’s overall condition was still good and, with the cable removed, will have a much better chance of successfully making the voyage back to the Alaskan feeding grounds. Let’s hope this time this whale stays clear of cables.
If you ever come across an entangled cetacean while in the Hawaiian islands, keep your distance and notify authorities via the NOAA 24-hour hotline at 1-888 256-9840, or contact the Coast Guard on VHF radio CH 16.