Steps can be taken to protect people and humpbacks

There are more than 10,000 humpback whales in Hawaiian waters this year, and federal and state agencies are partnering to protect the whales.

The whales generally visit Hawaiian waters from November to May, with the peak of the season from January to March. Whales visit the warmer Hawaiian waters to mate, calve and nurse their young, according to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. They return to Alaska in the summer months because Hawaii’s waters are too warm to generate enough food. The colder waters of Alaska help to feed and rebuild the whales’ blubber.

There are several whale collisions near the Hawaiian Islands every year, the news release from the U.S. Coast Guard said. Boaters can take proactive measures to ensure their safety as well as that of the whales, which average 45 tons, by keeping a boat speed down when whales are known to be in the area. Mariners also should maintain a sharp lookout at all times.

The Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement are working to protect the whales, the Coast Guard said in a news release Friday.

While on routine patrols, Coast Guard boats and air crews scan the area for signs of whales. If whales are sighted, crews alert nearby mariners to ensure they remain away. It is illegal to approach a whale within 100 yards, and aircraft are prohibited from flying within 1,000 feet of a whale.

Coast Guard crews conduct sanctuary patrols to ensure boaters and marine life stay safe and inform federal and state officials of distressed marine mammals or entanglements. The Coast Guard assists with an average of 12 to 15 whale entanglements each season and transports numerous marine mammals that are in danger to safer locations.

Mariners and citizens are asked to report injured or entangled marine mammals to the Coast Guard on VHF marine Channel 16 or at (808) 842-2600, or by contacting the Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement hot line at (888) 256-9840.

Mariners also may report sightings by calling the police. Prompt reporting is the best way to help distressed animals, the Coast Guard news release said.