A team of experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard is working to find a whale entangled in fishing line off the Big Island.
The whale was first spotted by two helicopter tour companies last Friday, then again on Sunday, traveling up the Hamakua coast.
Officials say heavy gauge line is wrapped five times around the animal’s tail.
“What we found was his back well-tangled and heavy gauge line with at least five wraps around the base of his tail and trailing hundreds of feet behind him, so a lot of gear trailing and also a red ball almost two feet in diameter sitting right at the tail,” said Ed Lyman, NOAA’s large whale entanglement response coordinator.
Lyman says while humpback whales are strong enough to drag gear thousands of miles, it will eventually endanger the animal’s life.
“The long term (effect) is starvation and everything that goes along with being weaker,” he explained. “You don’t have the speed and maneuverability to catch those fish or krill, small shrimp-like organisms.”
A trained responder documented the whale, which hasn’t been seen since. Crews are hoping to launch a rescue operation if the whale is spotted again.
Lyman is urging the public to call the NOAA Fisheries Hotline at (888) 256-9840 to report the whale and not try to free the animal themselves.
“Even something as simple as cutting off the trailing gear can be dangerous and may not help the animal as the lethal wraps will be left behind with no means now to remove them later,” he said.
NOAA has rescued 21 entangled whales in the last 10 years.