HONOLULU (KHON2) — It is not every day that folks hear of a whale shark in Hawaiian waters, especially one that is entangled.

A group of researchers off the Big Island saw just that on Tuesday, June 14.

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Cascadia Research Collective took a survey boat a little more than 3 miles off south Kona on Tuesday. Research assistant Jordan Lerma said the crew was excited at first.

“It’s exciting to see a whale shark, but then our hearts just drop when we saw it was wrapped,” Lerma said.

“Our minds were racing 1,000 miles per hour, just, you know, ‘Where’s the biggest knife on our boat?'”

Jordan Lerma, Cascadia Research Collective research assistant

It was not that simple, however. Waikiki Aquarium director Dr. Andrew Rossiter said the debris looks like a mooring rope from a shipping vessel.

“I would recommend staying back unless you are in a boat, extremely accomplished with clearing this kid of thing. Obviously, it can’t be removed by hand,” Dr. Rossiter said.

Lerma said he and the team of researchers did not have the proper equipment and could only document the case.

“I think the most heartbreaking thing is realizing that we just couldn’t do anything aside from try to get some footage of it and raise awareness that these issues are happening right outside the coast,” Lerma said.

There is hope, however. Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective (HURC) is Hawaii’s first group focused on whale sharks and is familiar with assisting the massive creatures if they are entangled. Click here to visit the HURC website.

HURC told KHON2 that they are aware of the report in Kona and are working on a response. Dr. Rossiter said everyone on the water should take note of their nets — or ropes — at all times.

“Don’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s overboard. I’ll go get another one.’ Pull it out of the water because it’s highly likely it’s going to impact the life and wellbeing of some marine animal,” Dr. Rossiter said.

“It’s just heartbreaking knowing that the right thing is to leave the animal alone,” Lerma said, “and it’s something that is going to be in the back of my mind for a while.”

“We can only do what’s best for ourselves and for the animals by thinking about sustainability, thinking about how our actions might affect the animals,” Lerma said.

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HURC asked the public to call their hotline at (808)-465-4872 if they see a whale shark that is entangled in Hawaiian waters.