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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Boat spots entangled whale

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

KiHEI, Maui — For the second day in a row, an entangled whale was sighted off Maui, and this one is believed to be a different humpback whale from the one seen Wednesday with a rope around its midsection.

A charter dive boat reported yesterday morning that a young whale swam underneath the vessel off Wailea, said David Mattila, a whale rescue expert working with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in Kihei. A dark-colored rope and a wad of netting were wrapped around the animal's midsection near its pectoral fins, with a portion of the rope trailing behind.

By the time the report was received, the whale was long gone, so researchers did not attempt to locate it, he said.

On Wednesday, crews aboard two boats farther north off Olowalu reported seeing a whale entangled in a white line.

Mattila acknowledged that eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate, and that all three boats may have seen the same whale. As director of whale rescue for the Center for Coastal Studies in New England, he has received numerous erroneous reports, including one about an entangled whale that turned out to be a turtle, and another in which someone said they saw a harpooned sperm whale swimming in an inland body of water. It turned out to be a manatee with a satellite transmitter.

Still, the differences in the description of the rope and how it was wrapped around the whale, and the fact that Wednesday's whale spotters included trained observers and that those aboard the dive boat got a close look at the animal yesterday lead him to believe there are two entangled whales.

Mattila said he was surprised to have two sightings on successive days, indicating that whale entanglement in the Pacific may be a bigger problem than understood.

Studies have shown that close to two-thirds of Atlantic humpbacks have entanglement scars, he said, and a similar study that begins later this month in Maui waters will try to determine the frequency of entanglements involving their Pacific cousins.

Boaters should immediately radio in sightings of entangled whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service's reporting hot line is (888) 256-9840.