Whale Entanglement in Maui

Earlier this month, divers aboard a Maui Diamond II charter experienced something out of the ordinary when they came upon an entangled humpback whale. It was early in the trip when Captain Don spotted what he thought was a competition pod. As the whales drifted closer, it became apparent that two whales were indeed jumping and tail slapping another whale and that’s when the passengers saw the lines and two orange buoys on the whale’s back.

Wouldn’t you know it, but Ed Lyman, our friendly neighborhood Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator (say that three times fast), was on Oahu for another entanglement case when the call for help first went out, so the MDII spent the next hour and a half “babysitting” the entangled whale until the Coast Guard arrived.

During that time, the entangled whale (believed to be female?) circled the boat and often just hung directly below it, seemingly seeking protection from the two other whales who continued to wait nearby as well. As the whale stayed near the boat, passengers could see that she also had a line going right through her mouth like a bridle.

When the Coast Guard arrived, the Maui Diamond II left…reluctantly. Humpbacks have a way of making an impact on human hearts with seemingly little effort and not a single passenger or crew member wanted to “abandon” this whale after bonding with her during the wait, but no one wanted to stand in the way of her getting the help she needed either and the Diamond moved off when instructed by the coast guard.

After the Coast Guard arrived, the whale got spooked (became evasive) and led the would-be rescuers around for miles until Ed and the sanctuary’s team arrived to relieve them sometime afternoon. They too followed the whale for hours until she finally led them into the wind line and disappeared.

Just days later, I found myself sitting in an industry meeting and listening to a presentation by Ed Lyman. He shared his updates about this most recent situation (they still have not found this whale, but based on the numbers identified from one of her buoys, she may have dragged these lines from a crab pot in Alaska!) and then discussed entanglements in general and what he’s learned over decades of being involved in this field.

If you see this whale, please call 888-256-9840

He said that though the first (and very dangerous) instinct is to jump in and try to free the whale, this is exactly what you don’t want to do. Us humans can easily become entangled ourselves, could possibly be dragged to the bottom, or even slapped with a fin or tail.

Instead, if you see an entangled animal, you should call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at 888-256-9840 or report it to the Coast Guard on channel 16. We have included photos of this specific whale in case you see it and the following description from Ed, “Its an adult animal with line through its mouth. There are two red balloon buoys that can be seen on either side of the animal. There are two bundles of gear – one that lies in front of the dorsal fin and the second at the tail stock. There is very little gear trailing.”

So keep an eye out and we’ll keep you informed if we learn anything new. Also, thanks to the crew and passengers aboard the Maui Diamond II who had the patience and commitment to participate in this attempted rescue!

For more great up-to-date whale info, check out the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary page!