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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Public asked to maintain safe distance from marine mammals

HONOLULU—With more than 10,000 humpback whales migrating to the Hawaiian Islands this year, crews from the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the State of Hawaii’s Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement, from the Department of Land and Natural Resources are partnering together to protect humpback whales.

Humpback whale season is generally from November to May with the peak season occurring during the months of January and March. According to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, whales come to the Hawaiian Islands to mate, calve, and nurse their young. They return to Alaska in the summer months because Hawaii’s waters are relatively nutrient-free and too warm to support enough of the humpback’s food to sustain them year-round. The whales must migrate back to colder water to feed and rebuild their blubber supply.

There are several whale collisions near the Hawaiian Islands every year. Boaters can take proactive measures to ensure their safety as well as the safety of the whales. Keeping a boat’s speed down when whales are known to be in the area is one step mariners can take. Mariners should also maintain a sharp lookout at all times.

Weighing an average of 45 tons, a humpback whale collision with a mariner can be catastrophic. While on routine patrol, Coast Guard boats and air crews scan the area for signs of whales. If whales are sighted crews alert nearby mariners to ensure they remain away. It is illegal to approach within 100 yards of a whale. Aircraft are also prohibited from flying within 1,000 feet of a whale.

Coast Guard crews conduct sanctuary patrols to ensure boaters and marine life stay safe.

The Coast Guard’s efforts to protect humpback whales are not limited to surface patrols. Coast Guardsmen act as first responders to entanglements and other marine mammal distress calls, and they are often the reporting source to NOAA and DOCARE. While on routine patrols, Coast Guard rescue helicopter crews from Air Station Barbers Point sometimes spot distressed marine mammals.

The Coast Guard assists with an average of 12 to 15 whale entanglements each season and transports numerous marine mammals that are in danger to safer locations.

Mariners and citizens are asked to report injured or entangled marine mammals to the Coast Guard on VHF marine channel 16 or at (808) 842-2600, or by contacting the Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement hotline at (888) 256-9840. Mariners can also report sightings by calling the local police. Prompt reporting is the best way to help distressed animals. (USCG)

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