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Vessel Collisions

Collision with vessels is recognized as a source of injury and death for endangered humpback whales in Hawaiʻi. NOAA has confirmed more that 80 contacts between vessels and whales in Hawaiian waters from 1975 to present that are more than just incidental (i.e. a curious calf rubbing along the hull of a vessel). Over the last decade, reports of vessel collisions with humpback whales in Hawaiʻi have increased. Approximately three-quarters of the cases have occurred and been reported over the last decade.

Sanctuary staff receives and catalogs reports of humpback whale vessel strikes, as well as other threats, like entanglements, and analyzes reports for preliminary assessment of impact. If warranted and conditions allow, the sanctuary mounts a rapid, on-water field response in order to better assess the impact to the whale and gather additional information.

The sanctuary maintains a database compiling all whale-vessel contacts around the main Hawaiian Islands to better understand the impacts and gather information towards mitigation or reducing the threat. The sanctuary partners with other researchers to better understand whale-vessel concerns/ threats.

Tips for Collision Avoidance

Keep a sharp lookout.  Post a dedicated lookout during whale season, November through May.  Look for blows, dorsal fins, tails, etc.

Watch your speed.  13 knots or less may reduce potential for injury

Keep your distance.  Once whales are sighted, stay at least 100 yards away.

Stop immediately if within 100 yards of a humpback whale.  Use prudent seamanship to decide to either move away slowly or wait for the whale to move away.

Call the NOAA Hotline if involved in a collision: 1-888-256-9840.  If you do not have a cell phone, hail U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 (156.8 Mhz).  You should also call the Hotline to report any entangled or injured whales.

Guidelines and Regulations for Whale Protection and Human Safety

Vessel Collision Avoidance Workshop
In 2003, the convergence of three significant elements—the increase in vessel traffic, vessel speed and the growing humpback whale population—fueled a rising concern among the technical and academic communities and the general public. This concern prompted the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) Advisory Council Vessel Strike Working Group and its partners to sponsor a workshop to assess ship strike risks to whales in Hawai’i and to identify possible actions to reduce the occurrence of vessel/whale collisions in Hawaiian waters and throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System.

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