Pacific Whale Foundation Hosts Annual “Be Whale Aware” Lecture

Each winter, an estimated 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawai’i to mate and give birth.  In Hawai’i, humpback whales are engaged in important social and behavioral activities. Approaching whales  too close or fast may disrupt these behaviors and cause unnecessary stress to the animals.

In order to promote responsible whalewatching, Pacific Whale Foundation developed the “Be Whale Aware” guidelines. These guidelines build on current federal and state regulations, as well as scientific research.

Greg Kaufman, Pacific Whale Foundation’s founder and Executive Director, annually hosts a public “Be Whale Aware” training program. The training is utilized as a way to share best practices that Pacific Whale Foundation has developed during three decades of whalewatching around Maui. As part of the November Making Waves lecture series, Kaufman presented the “Be Whale Aware” guidelines and results from Pacific Whale Foundation’s current humpback whale research.

Studies have shown that ship speed and size are major factors when it comes to ship strikes.  A vessel traveling over 15 knots, for example, has an 80% chance of causing lethal injuries if it hits a whale. At speeds below 11.8 knots, the chances of a lethal injury drop below 50% (Vanderlaan & Taggart, 2007).

Pacific Whale Foundation’s “Researcher on Board” study in 2011 recorded a total of 2,464 humpback whale sightings. Of those sightings, 133 (3%) were surprise encounters. Findings from the study support the theory that vessel speed is important in avoiding collisions with whales. Pacific Whale Foundation recommends that all vessels travel no faster than 15 knots in Maui County waters during whale season.

The “Be Whale Aware” guidelines also suggest not approach whales directly from the front or behind, limiting viewing time with mom’s and calves to 30 minutes, and not having more than three vessels watching a whale at one time.  Download a copy of the “Be Whale Aware” guidelines.

All ocean users are reminded that federal law prohibits approaching whales closer than 100 yards.

Pacific Whale Foundation has equipped its catamarans with Whale Protection Devices to guide whales away from propellers and running gear. Each Pacific Whale Foundation vessel is also required to post a red and yellow flag when the vessel is actively watching whales. The flag helps alert other boaters to slow down because whales are in the area.

This year, Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team will be working aboard the dedicated research vessel Ocean Protector to continue ongoing research to document humpback whales in the Maui region. Kaufman discussed that the study focuses on identifying ‘hot spots’ where it’s especially important for vessels to keep a watchful eye for whales and maintain reduced speeds.

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers will be photo-identifying individual whales and collecting data on age classes, gender (when apparent), pod compositions and group sizes of the whales encountered. Kaufman highlighted the importance of understanding which whales — males, females, calves, older whales — are likely to surface unexpectedly around boats. Knowing the answer to these questions will help greatly reduce the threat of ship-strikes in Maui County waters.

References sited:

Vanderlaan, A.S., & Taggart, C.T. (2007). Vessel collisions with whales: the probability of lethal injury based on speed. Marine Mammal Science, 23(1), 144-156.

Preparing for a long journey home

Ocean Spirit looked elegant and vibrant like a racehorse ready to go, as crew members tend to last minute tests and system checks. Five crew members will set sail on a 5880.85 mile journey, from St. Croix, USVI to Maui, HI. Ocean Spirit, will be the ninth vessel of Pacific Whale Foundation’s eco fleet.

PWF’s Founder Greg Kaufman, joined our Eco Team on sea trials from Salt River Bay, St. Croix. Sails were drawn and she proved to be strong as well as fast, reaching a top speed of 21.9 knots! Final preparations will continue this week for scheduled departure on November 1, weather permitting. Stay tuned as will will report and track Ocean Spirit’s journey along the way.

Coral Reef Survey

Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) was recently contacted by WHALE Environmental Services LLC and asked if we were interested in a collaboration, as this Oahu-based company was planning to undertake a pilot project to survey the West Maui coral reefs. PWF was very keen to take part, and so we made arrangements to take our research vessel, Ocean Protector, out as a diving vessel for a change.

Using a standardized method, we made very short dives at 14 coral reefs along the coast of West Maui, between Ma’alaea Harbor and Honolua Bay. While scuba diving, we took note of various factors which would be used to indicate reef health, such as:

  • the number of coral species observed
  • the number of fish species observed
  • signs of pollution
  • signs of erosion
  • signs of coral disease or bleaching
  • signs of fishing pressure
  • signs of stormwater entry at the site

It was interesting to see the stark differences between a healthy reef and an unhealthy reef. This project is a baseline study – meaning that we are recording the current state of these reefs so we have a measurable starting point and can monitor the reef and detect any changes in the future. In science it is very important to record a baseline so you know when changes are happening. You then have data on how fast or slow changes are occurring, or in what locations.

While we await the results of the report that is being prepared, the research department is back to its usual summer routine of carrying out transect surveys for dolphins and marine debris.

PWF Awarded Sustainable Tourism Certification

Since its inception 35 years ago, Pacific Whale Foundation has remained committed to not only educating the public about the ocean environment, but also ensuring that our operations are as environmentally friendly as possible. We work to reduce our overall environmental impact, and have been an industry leader when it comes to practices like pumping, and not dumping, waste, replacing styrofoam containers with compostable products and mooring our vessels at snorkel sites instead of dropping anchor on reefs.

Pacific Whale Foundation guests and crew work together to remove a large net from the ocean during an Eco-Adventure

Pacific Whale Foundation guests and crew work together to remove a large net from the ocean during an Eco-Adventure

A main component of Pacific Whale Foundation trips is also inspiring passengers to take an active role in protecting our oceans – be it through making lifestyle changes or joining one of our many ocean advocacy campaigns.

We are excited to announce that the education and sustainability standards set by Pacific Whale Foundation, and other eco-tour companies throughout Hawai’i, are being officially promoted through the Hawai’i Ecotourism Association’s newly revamped “Sustainable Tourism Certification Program”. Formed in 1994, the Hawai’i Ecotourism Association (HEA) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for ecotourism as a means to protect Hawai’i’s natural environment and native cultures.

HEA Certification Logo Blue CERTIFIED Dates

Ecotours that receive the Sustainable Tourism Certification must meet specific criteria, including:

  • Provide a direct, personal experience of nature for customers;
  • Employ environmentally sustainable practices to ensure that their activities do not degrade the environment;
  • Maintain a written Sustainability Commitment Statement that guides operations and demonstrates a commitment to HEA Sustainable Tourism principles;
  • Make ongoing, positive contributions to the community annually, both economically and in contributing to local conservation initiatives;
  • Provide accurate interpretation of resources to guests during tour and ensure that staff are qualified and appropriately trained.

Pacific Whale Foundation is one of only five tour operators on Maui to receive the Sustainable Tourism Certification for the 2014-2016 cycle. We are a proud member of the Hawai’i Ecotourism Association and look forward to promoting the values of sustainability throughout Hawai’i’s tourism industry.

Hawai’i Conservation Conference

lauren_conference2Today marked the final day of the 22nd annual Hawai’i Conservation Conference, where the “who’s who” of the protection and management of Hawaiian ecosystems descend upon the island of O’ahu to discuss issues such as coral reef health, marine mammal protection, climate change adaptation and building local capacity.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to exhibit Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program during the conference, and connected with numerous individuals and organizations to help expand this important program throughout Hawai’i.

Fishing line wrapped around a coral head (Maui)

Fishing line wrapped around a coral head (Maui)

Popularized in Florida, fishing line recycling programs are now found throughout coastal states, and represent a voluntary, community-based environmental initiative. Anglers and fishermen are encouraged to not only recycle their line, but to sponsor bins that they (along with their community) will maintain in the future.

Improperly discarded fishing line can entangle wildlife (most notably turtles, fish, seabirds and wildlife), and also pose a hazard to boaters and ocean users. By encouraging anglers to recycle their line, the program both directly reduces the amount of line that ends up in the environment and reduces the amount of virgin plastic that is needed to make items such as tackle boxes or spools.  And as you may know, plastics are the number one most common piece of trash found in the environment – so the less plastic we create, the less trash we make!

Kahului Fishing Line Recycling Bin

Kahului Fishing Line Recycling Bin

To date, Pacific Whale Foundation has installed two separate bins – one at Kahului Harbor and one at Ma’alaea Harbor.  These bins have thus far collected over 5,000 feet of monofilament line!!

Marine debris is a serious issue throughout the world’s marine and coastal environments, but it is local initiatives such as recycling fishing line or encouraging the use of reusable bags and water bottles that will lead to a more healthy (and happy!) environment.  These types of initiatives, furthermore, put the change directly in the hands of the community, and in doing so, empower the people who rely directly on the resources.

To learn more about Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program, please visit Don’t Leave Your Line Behind.