In 1991, Hawaii was home to a population of just 5,000 humpback whales. Today, this captivating species is experiencing a truly remarkable renaissance.
When a distress call concerning an entangled whale resonates in the waters of Hawaii, Edward Lyman springs into action, initiating a "code yellow" alert for his dedicated team. Lyman, an expert in natural resources, holds a pivotal role within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, where his mission is to meticulously oversee and safeguard these majestic creatures, leading the charge in entanglement response efforts.
Embarking on the journey to reach an entangled whale can consume up to two hours, often galvanizing the local community and tour boats to join forces, lending support by tracking the distressed whale from a safe and vigilant distance.
(Source: Drone image showing an entangled humpback whale and entangling gear. M. Van Aswegen/University of Hawaii - Manoa/NOAA)
Entanglement is just one facet of the myriad perils confronting these whales; they must also navigate the perils of ship strikes, the impacts of climate change, and the cacophony of noise pollution. Whales ensnared in fishing lines find themselves ensnared in a harrowing ordeal, dragged mercilessly over thousands of miles, vulnerable to the perils of drowning and starvation.
The Hawaiian Islands, particularly the region encompassing Maui, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and Lanai, serve as vital breeding grounds for North Pacific humpback whales. Despite the harrowing history of commercial whaling nearly decimating their population in the 19th and 20th centuries, current data reveals an extraordinary resurgence.
(Source: A tight wrap of line and a large bundle of marine debris around a humpback whale's head. M. Lammers/NOAA)
While humpback whales have been removed from the endangered species list, the scientific community maintains a vigilant watch for signs of reaching their "carrying capacity" — the ecological limit of their natural environment.
Edward Lyman's team wields an array of specialized techniques to rescue entangled whales, ensuring their safe liberation. Moreover, they conduct meticulous investigations into the debris found on these whales, aiming to trace its origin and prevent future incidents.
As Lyman succinctly articulates, "You’re not going to eliminate all the threats unless we somehow are off the face of the earth. So you’re mitigating — you’re trying to reduce the threats at the individual level." These unwavering efforts are essential in providing these magnificent creatures with a fighting chance amidst the multifaceted challenges they encounter.
Source: Christine H. (September 16, 2023). In 1991, just 5,000 humpback whales went to Hawaii. Now, they're rebounding. SFGATE. https://www.sfgate.com/hawaii/article/hawaii-humpback-whales-rebounded-not-recovered-18369486.php
Cover picture: IFAW. Entabled Whale Rescue - Global