Boaters Urged To Slow Down And Stay Away From Whales In Hawaiian Waters: Maui Now

VC: NOAA/HIHWNMS Fisheries, Ed Lyman/NOAA, Nicholas Zachar/NOAA, Pierce M Myers, Mariya Parkhomchuk

Mother and calf showing scars from vessel interaction. Photo: J. Moore/NOAA Permit 15240

With increased whale activity around the islands, NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands National Marine Humpback Whale Sanctuary and state administrators remind boaters to keep an eye out for humpback whales and their calves.

“Striking a whale at any speed could prove disastrous for both people and the whale,” Sanctuary officials said in a news release.

The HIHWNMS reports that humpback whales are currently very active in the sanctuary.

“An adult humpback whale can weigh around 45 tons. Hitting one of these whales, even at low speed, would be like hitting a slow-moving freight train with your car. Fiberglass, wood and even metal hulls are not designed for such an impact. They could break or twist and subject occupants to high risk of blunt force trauma and drowning,” according to the Sanctuary.


HIHWNMS reports that there is a common misperception that whales have such excellent natural sonar that they always avoid boats and people in the water. “This is not true. Whales regularly surface below and in front of moving ships, causing damage to the ships, the occupants, and the whales themselves. Never assume a whale can or will avoid it,” according to the news release.

“Enjoy the whales from a distance. Please respect these amazing animals and their natural behaviors. Give them plenty of room to move around the area,” said Kim Hum, superintendent of the Hawaiian Islands National Marine Humpback Whale Sanctuary. “The last thing anyone wants is a strike or near strike with a whale, or worse, a capsized boat and someone injured from getting too close.”

Humpback calf leaping in the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary of the Hawaiian Islands. Photo: NOAA. Permit 728-1438.

Whales are protected from disturbance or injury by federal laws, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and by state regulations. Any action by an individual that causes the whale to change its behavior, regardless of the person’s intent or distance from the whale, constitutes “harassment” under federal law, subjecting the individual to possible federal fines and penalties. .

Boaters must not cross in front of the whales, chase them from behind, or go around them. Never separate a mother and calf from her, or intentionally place a container in the path of an animal. This is called “leaping a frog” and is illegal.


If approached by a curious whale, the captain of a vessel “should turn off the propulsion system and let go.” The HIHWNMS advises that when it is safe to do so and the whale has moved away, slowly re-hook and steer the boat away.

During whale season, especially in water depths of 100 fathoms/600 feet or less, boaters are asked to maintain a speed of 15 knots or less (or a minimum planing speed) to minimize the risk of striking a whale. whale. When approaching a whale directly for viewing or moving away from viewing, speed should be reduced to six knots or less within 400 yards.

Boaters are reminded that in Hawaiian waters it is illegal to approach a humpback whale within 100 yards by any means by sea or drone and within 1,000 feet by aircraft.

Revised recommendations for best practices for boating around whales, developed jointly by the sanctuary, the State of Hawaii, and the Pacific Whale Foundation, can be found at: whales/


If you see an injured or entangled marine mammal, keep a safe and legal distance and call NOAA’s State Marine Wildlife Hotline at 888-256-9840 or the US Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16 immediately.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is an important habitat for whales and the only place in the US where humpback whales mate, give birth and nurse their young.

Designated in 1992, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary works to protect humpback whales and their habitat through research, education, conservation, and stewardship. The sanctuary is managed through a partnership of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources.