The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is looking for photos from people who were aboard the Capt. Andy’s boats during the afternoon of Oct. 1.
They are trying to determine if the humpback whales sighted off Niihau and Kauai are the same whale, wrote Toni Parras, spokesman for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Captains Sterling Silva and Brian Neubauer reported the whale sighting, Oct. 1, following the Sept. 29 sighting by the NOAA Ship Hiialakai off Niihau.
Federal regulators closely monitor the endangered humpack whales that enter Hawaiian waters each winter to mate and give birth. Many of these whales have scars that suggest they have been injured in an entanglement or boat striking, which in some cases can lead to a whale’s death.
“We can compare the Kauai whale photos with the images obtained from the researchers aboard the NOAA Ship Hiialakai which showed some scars in the tail area of the whale,” Parras said. “The scar pattern on the Niihau whale indicates it was entangled in the past, and shows no sign of being currently entangled. Both whale sightings indicated an active animal exhibiting normal behaviors.”
Silva reported behaviors including a breach, a pectoral slap and a dive.
Ed Lyman, marine mammal response manager for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said ocean users such as those who reported the whale sightings are a great resource in helping monitor humpback whales.
“By locating distressed animals, reporting, and providing the initial documentation and assessment on the animal, ocean users are the foundation of our conservation efforts,” Lyman said.
Humpbacks normally arrive in Hawaiian waters in November and stay through May.
The humpback whale was declared a federally endangered species in 1970 after threats like hunting had greatly depleted their numbers. When the global humpback population was last assessed by NOAA Fisheries in 1991, it was determined that the iconic oceanic creature was still in danger of extinction.
But since that time, Hawaii’s humpback population appears to have doubled, said Michael Tosatto, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands.
There are now about 10,000 humpbacks in the Hawaii population subgroup, with an annual growth rate of 5 to 6 percent, according to data from NOAA Fisheries.
In April, federal regulators proposed shedding the animal’s status as an endangered species. The multi-faceted proposal involves dividing the global humpback population into 14 subgroups based on factors like geography and genetic traits and then removing the endangered species designation from those subgroups that are healthy and growing.
Any passengers who took photos of the whale seen off the Kinikini area of the Pacific Missile Range Facility, especially showing the tail area of the whale, is asked to forward them to Jean.Souza@noaa.gov.