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Vessel Collisions

Collision with vessels is recognized as a source of injury and death for humpback whales in Hawai?i. NOAA has confirmed more than 115 contacts between vessels and whales in Hawai‘ian waters since 1975 that are more than just incidental (i.e., a curious calf rubbing along the hull of a vessel). Over the last 4 decades, reports of collisions between humpback whales and vessels in Hawai?i have generally increased. In part, this is likely a result of the increasing number of animals.

Humpback whale with healed scars from propeller.
Whale with healed scars
Photo credit: K. Eifler/ HIHWNMS/ NOAA Fisheries MMHSRP Permit # 15240

Sanctuary staff receive and catalog reports of whale-vessel contacts, as well as other threats, like entanglements. 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 compiles all reports and field assessment results around the main Hawai‘ian Islands in a database to better understand the impacts and gather information towards mitigation or reducing threats and their impacts. 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.  1Go a slow, safe speed. Data has shown in some regions that 13 knots or less may reduce the rate of ship-strikes and the severity of injury.

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

Stop immediately if a humpback whale approaches within 100 yards. 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) Hawai‘ian 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 Hawai‘ian waters and throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System.

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