When the peak whale season hits between the months of January and March, boaters are more likely to spot whales just off the shores. Unfortunately, they may not spot them at all; this sometimes causes what is known as a “whale strike” in which the boat and the whale collide. This generally happens a few times a year, but this year, marine experts say there have already been enough whale strikes to create a cause for concern.
“Last year we had two confirmed strikes. The year before that, 2011, we had five. The highest we have ever had is 12; but we are still very early in the season so we’ve had five confirmed strikes this season,” Elia Herman of the National Marine Sanctuary told KHON2 News.
The most recent strike happened last week, on Saturday, as a couple from Arizona sailed on an outrigger canoe just a few hundred yards offshore on Maui. The whale bumped their canoe and shook the couple up a bit, but thankfully, no one was injured.
Another incident, one that received some national news coverage, happened earlier this month. A humpback flipped the canoe of a 60-year-old kayaker about a quarter-mile offshore. While no serious injuries were sustained by the individual, the kayaker was left stranded about 100 yards from the shoreline until a tour boat was able to rescue him.
While most encounters like this are unavoidable, marine experts are now asking boaters to take extra precautions.
“Go low and keep a lookout, those are the messages. We are in peak whale season January, February, March. There are a lot of whales out there. Most of these strikes have happened off of Maui. We had one in Kona that I think everyone has heard about,” Herman said.
Boaters should also be aware of the fact that it is a violation of federal law to intentionally come within 100 yards of a humpback whale because they are an endangered species.
“This hundred yard rule applies to boats, to people, and there’s a one thousand yard approach rule for airplanes,” Herman said. “So whether you’re in a boat or you’re swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, you cannot approach within a hundred yards.”