National marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers closed to the public; waters remain open

NOAA's national marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers are closed to the public while the waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC guidance and local regulations. More information on the response from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries can be found on

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How You Can Help Entangled Whales!

Saving Hawaii’s humpback whales from entanglement threat is a community effort; however, if you should come across an entangled whale, please do not take matters into your own hands. Disentangling a large marine mammal is a dangerous undertaking. It poses possible risk of injury or even death to would-be rescuers and to the animal itself. Let trained and authorized teams respond by reporting the entanglement to the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at (888) 256-9840. If a phone call is not possible, hail the US Coast Guard on VHF channel 16. If possible provide us with the means to contact you, the location of the animal (if the animal is moving an estimate of heading and speed), and information on the nature of the entanglement and description of the animal. If you can, take pictures or video of the animal and entanglement.

Entangled Humpback Whale rescue
Photo credit: N. Davis/ HIHWNMS/ NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit # 932-1905

All this information will allow us to assess the entanglement and animal to determine whether a disentanglement response can and should be mounted. In fact, only half of the entanglement reports we receive actually involve an entanglement. Many of these misreported observations end up being white-flippered humpbacks. One in five humpbacks in the North Pacific have white flippers, which when viewed from a nearby vessel or shore, appear blue-green in the water and are typically misinterpreted as netting, kayaks, and even surfboards. Most of these misreported observations are shore-based. Other examples of misreported observations include: animals in the proximity of gear, but not entangled; reflections off the wet backs of animals interpreted as buoys; calves being interpreted as gear, surface behaviors, like breaching, being interpreted as animals trying to throw an entanglement, and snorkelers or divers in the water (“there’s a whale entangled and it is trailing a red and white flag”).

Entangled humpback whale
Photo credit: J. Moore/ HIHWNMS/ NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit # 18786-03

Remember, federal regulations in place to protect these animals and ocean users still apply. Unless otherwise notified you must stay a safe and legal distance (100 yards) from the animal at all times. If a response is to be mounted, it is important to standby (at a safe distance) until the response team arrives. As already mentioned when no one stands by, the animal is usually not located again that day.

Humpback whale jumping out of the water
Entangled humpback whale calf. Photo credit: R. Finn/ HIHWNMS/ NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit # 932-1905

Again, not every entangled whale is a candidate for disentanglement. However, by working together we will do our best to save as many of these magnificent animals as possible and at the same time, hopefully, gather the information needed to reduce entanglement threat in the future.

Help support the sanctuary's rescue efforts by donating to the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.


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