There have been four whale-vessel collisions in the state this season - three of them off Maui in the last week, according to an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday.
There were reported whale collisions off Maalaea Harbor on Wednesday morning, off Mala Wharf on Tuesday afternoon and off Lahaina a week ago, said Ed Lyman, NOAA resource protection manager. Two of the whales did not appear to have life-threatening injuries; Lyman said that the extent of the injuries of the third animal could not be determined.
The two collisions in a 24-hour period this week caught the attention of whale protection officials.
"We along with the Coast Guard . . . want to put out the word, 'yeah, they are definitely here,' '' Lyman said.
Whale season is November to May, but the peak part of the season is from January to March. NOAA's last official full whale survey six years ago found 10,000 whales in Hawaiian waters, with the numbers growing, he said.
After the collision in Maalaea Bay, Lyman said that the NOAA boat Kohola went out looking for the injured calf and its mother and discovered that they had company.
"It was loaded with mothers and calves in Maalaea Bay," he said, estimating that there were 20 mother-calf pairs. "We are in peak season. That's why we are getting the reports."
The number of collisions - to be delineated from incidental bumps such as calves rubbing up against hulls of stopped boats - vary per year. Last whale season, there were two reported; five the year before that. Twelve was the largest number in a season that NOAA has logged, Lyman said.
"We could have numbers this season that are on par with past seasons," he said. "Overall, these are small numbers."
Investigations of the collisions are ongoing, but Lyman provided a few details about each Maui incident:
* Wednesday, at about 6:30 a.m., about a mile out of Maalaea Harbor, the crew of a small boat reported colliding with a calf that was with its mother. The crew thought the contact was "pretty minor" and saw no blood in the water, Lyman said. NOAA went out into Maalaea Bay looking for the calf and found one with "very, very superficial wounds" on the base of its tail.
"We think it's that animal," he said, adding that if it was the animal, it was "not a life-threatening strike."
* On Tuesday at 4:40 p.m., about a half mile off Mala Wharf, a 50-foot tour boat struck a whale calf. Blood was seen in the water after the collision. Lyman said there is no way to determine if the calf's injuries were superficial or worse.
* A week ago off Lahaina, a tour boat struck a whale in the late afternoon. There was no indication of injury to the whale, Lyman said.
He noted that the vessel involved in Tuesday's collision was doing what it was supposed to be doing and still there was a collision.
The crew was "doing their their best and had a surprise," he said.
These collisions mean that boaters need to be "on guard" and exercise "extra vigilance," Lyman said.
That means moving slower through the water, keeping one hand on the wheel and the other on the throttle at all times and putting up extra observers.
"I want to put it in perspective. We could be doing our best and it could still happen, but doing the basics . . . is going to reduce that happening to you," he said.
Avoiding collisions is good for the whales and the humans onboard the vessels, Lyman said. A boat collision with a 40-to-45-ton whale could throw passengers to the deck on larger vessels and overboard on smaller boats.
It's about the safety of the whales and the people, he said.
* Lee Imada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.