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FAQs

Why was the sanctuary established?

How is the national marine sanctuary beneficial?

Why doesn’t the sanctuary encompass all waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands?

What socio-economic impacts does the sanctuary have on Hawai’i’s ocean industry?

What are the regulations within the sanctuary?


Are there any fishing restrictions within the sanctuary?

What role does the State of Hawai’i play in sanctuary operations?

How can I get involved?

Where can I get more information on the management plan review process?


Why was the sanctuary established?

In 1992, Congress enacted the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS), recognizing the important role that the Hawaiian Islands play in the preservation and long-term vitality of the endangered humpback whale. The waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are essential breeding, calving and nursing areas. Protection of this important ecological habitat is necessary for the long-term recovery of the North Pacific humpback whale population. 

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How is the national marine sanctuary beneficial?

The sanctuary improves upon existing marine conservation and management efforts of state and federal agencies by providing inter-agency coordination and comprehensive protection through education, science, and outreach support. Additional resource protection is necessary to ensure the long-term recovery and continued vitality of humpback whales and their habitat; and this can occur primarily through non-regulatory mechanisms.

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Why doesn’t the sanctuary encompass all waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands?

For the sanctuary to be effective in protecting essential humpback whale habitat, the area must be manageable under current and foreseeable financial and staff resources. In choosing boundaries for the sanctuary, many factors were taken into consideration, such as an area’s size, resources, management ability, and the human uses within the region. The boundaries also consider incompatible uses found in the sanctuary such as harbors and military activities.

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What socio-economic impacts does the sanctuary have on Hawai’i’s ocean industry?

Since the sanctuary has been in operation, it has played an important role in ocean industry and tourism in Hawai’i through education, research, and monitoring of humpback whales. In 1999, revenue attributed to whale-watching activities in Hawai’i was estimated to be between $11-16 million dollars.

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What are the regulations within the sanctuary?  

The following activities are prohibited within the sanctuary:

(1) approaching, or causing a vessel or other object to approach, within the sanctuary, by any means, within 100 yards of any humpback whale except as authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA);

(2) operating any aircraft above the sanctuary within 1,000 feet of any humpback whale;

(3) taking any humpback whale in the sanctuary except as authorized under the MMPA and the Endangered Species Act (ESA);

(4) possessing within the sanctuary (regardless of where taken) any living or dead humpback whale or part thereof taken in violation of the MMPA or the ESA;

(5) discharging or depositing any materials or other matter in the sanctuary; altering the seabed of the sanctuary, or discharging and depositing any material or other matter outside of the sanctuary if the discharge or deposit subsequently enters and injures a humpback whale or humpback whale habitat; and

(6) interfering with, obstructing, delaying, or preventing an investigation, search, seizure, or disposition of seized property in connection with enforcement with either of the Acts.

This regulation summary is for reference only. For a complete listing of sanctuary regulations, please consult 15 CFR Part 922, or contact your local sanctuary office. 

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Are there any fishing restrictions within the sanctuary?

Fishing activities in federal waters are managed by the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and in state waters by the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources. While fishermen, as well as all marine users, are subject to the current NMFS regulations prohibiting approaches closer than 100-yards, data shows relatively low interactions with humpback whales during fishing operations within the sanctuary. The sanctuary recognizes the importance of fishing for livelihood and enjoyment in Hawai’i and currently does not have authority to regulate fishing activities within sanctuary boundaries. Additionally, the sanctuary recognizes the importance of protecting Native Hawaiian fishing and gathering rights and works to ensure they are not unnecessarily impacted by existing regulations. 

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What role does the State of Hawai’i play in sanctuary operations?  

As stipulated in a compact agreement signed in 1998 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano, NOAA and the State of Hawai’i “shall manage the sanctuary through a cooperative partnership and consult on all management activities throughout the sanctuary.” In accordance with the agreement, the Governor has designated a State Co-Manager to work in consultation with the Sanctuary Superintendent as an equal partner in the oversight of sanctuary operations. NOAA and the State of Hawai’i determined that co-managing a sanctuary would provide additional resources and expertise to enhance the protection of humpback whales and their habitat. 

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How can I get involved?

Visit Get Involved!

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Where can I get more information on the management plan review process?  

Visit Management Plan Review.

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