KAILUA-KONA — The humpbacks are back.
What is believed to be the first sighting of a humpback whale in Hawaiian waters this season occurred about 8:20 a.m. Tuesday in waters off Kauai’s northwest coast, said Ed Lyman, natural resources specialist with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Captains aboard Holo Holo Charter’s Adventurer II spotted the cetacean in waters about a mile off Kee Beach.
The whale breached three to four times, giving the captains enough time to positively identify the animal as a humpback whale, according to the sanctuary. It was reported to be medium-sized.
Humpback whale season in Hawaii generally runs from November through May, although whales may be encountered in limited numbers during other months. Thousands of humpback whales return to Hawaiian waters each year to breed, give birth, and nurse their young.
It’s not known if the whales head to a specific island first before moving throughout the chain, though over the years many first sightings have been reported off Kauai, according to Lyman.
“But we’ve gotten first sightings off Maui and the other islands as well also. We can’t always say it is,” he said.
The sanctuary’s annual humpback whale count, during which community members count and monitor humpback whales from the shore, gets underway in January. Events are scheduled Jan. 25, Feb. 29, and March 28. Registration for 2020 opens in mid-December 2019.
With the arrival of humpback whale season, ocean users are reminded to keep a safe distance from the mammals, and boaters should take extra care to avoid collisions.
Humpback whales are protected in Hawaii. Federal regulations prohibit approaching within 100 yards of whales when on the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft, which includes helicopters.
If anyone comes across an injured or entangled marine mammal, they should maintain the required safe distance and call the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline at (888) 256-9840, or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16. If reporting a suspected approach zone violation, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.
For more information, visit www.hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.