In this Sept. 29 image taken from video and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a humpback whale is spotted near Kauai, Hawaii. The encounter was the first sighting of humpback in Hawaii this season.

In this Sept. 29 image taken from video and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a humpback whale is spotted near Kauai, Hawaii. The encounter was the first sighting of humpback in Hawaii this season.

Feds say first humpback whales of season spotted in Hawaii

HONOLULU — Humpback whales were spotted in the waters off Hawaii for the first time this season, leading officials to warn ships and recreational boaters to steer clear of the endangered visitors.

Researchers saw the first whale about a week ago off the small island of Niihau, near Kauai, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a news release Tuesday. A second whale was seen days later near Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility.

Humpbacks normally arrive in the tropics in November and stay through May. There has been a general trend toward earlier arrivals in the past two decades, with the average in the past 10 years happening on Oct. 1, officials said. About 10,000 humpbacks winter in Hawaii each year.

Officials said boats should watch for and avoid the newly arriving whales. Ship strikes and entanglements can kill the animals and injure people on board.

“It’s important for everyone to be extra vigilant during whale season, for their own safety and the protection of the animals,” said Malia Chow, superintendent of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

While researchers have little data on the number of fatal whale encounters with people, they know that boat strikes are common. Most times, the injured whales are devoured by sharks or sink after they die, so scientists don’t know about the encounter.

“The first day there’s like three sharks, the second day there’s 10,” said NOAA’s Ed Lyman, who monitors whale strikes and entanglements in the Pacific. “They make short work of eating a whale and it’s off the radar screen for us.”

About 50 percent of whales in heavily monitored parts of the Pacific Ocean have scars on their body that indicate they have been injured by human activity, Lyman said.

Federal officials proposed removing most of the world’s humpback whales from the endangered species list in April. The iconic mammal was on the verge of extinction when the international community banned whaling of the species nearly 50 years ago. The U.S. government listed it as endangered four years later.

But that doesn’t mean they will lack protections.

The whales would still be covered by the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Plus, the U.S. is a member of the International Whaling Commission, which banned commercial whaling in 1966.

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 13

Here’s what to expect this week.

A memorial started on Front Street in downtown Juneau for 35-year-old Juneau resident Steven Kissack, who was experiencing homelessness, grows on Thursday with food donations and suicide hotline information. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
As the death investigation of Steven Kissack begins, special prosecution office explains its process

Reviews can be lengthy, information limited to ensure due process, Department of Law leaders say

In this screenshot from a streamed court hearing, Attorney Thekla Hansen-Young (bottom right) speaks in front of a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 18, 2024, in San Francisco. (Screenshot)
Federal appeals court appears unlikely to halt Southeast Alaska king trolling for now

A lower-court order that could stop fishing has been placed on hold since last year.

Bulk food in Food Bank of Alaska’s Anchorage warehouse on April 21, 2023. (Claire Stremple/Alaska Beacon)
(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Tuesday, July 16, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Monday, July 15, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Getty Images)
Peltola leads Republican challengers in latest fundraising report for Alaska U.S. House race

The initial version of this article failed to include donations to candidates… Continue reading

Trees float down Mendenhall River on July 17, 2024. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
Suicide Basin fills from heavy rain, but expert says release of water does not appear imminent

Rate of rise increases to about 50 feet per week, but rain expected to slow

Most Read