- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) - In the last dozen years, Ed Lyman has helped free 22 humpback whales from entanglements, recovering buoys and more than 9,000 feet of fishing line that were once wound around the bodies of these majestic endangered species.

That’s just in Hawaii.

Another 40 whales have been freed of fishing gear and other debris by Lyman’s hands in waters off the coast of Alaska, California and the East Coast.

Lyman, a nationally recognized whale entanglement response coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, is as experienced as anyone in using an array of tactics and tools, such as GoPro-equipped bamboo cutters, to locate entangled whales, slow them down, keep them swimming at the sea’s surface and remove the debris.

But he’s never freed a whale from an entanglement in the waters off Kauai.

“What’s defeating us is the whales aren’t stationary,” he said after giving a public lecture about humpbacks at Lihue Library. “They’re doing this ring-around-the-rosie thing, and we have tried a few times but we haven’t been able to catch up to them ever.”

Whales tend to behave differently in Kauai’s waters than they do off the coast of Maui, for instance, where much of Lyman’s work is based - and where it has so far been easier to catch up to whales caught up in entanglements.

New and newly permitted technologies are ever-emerging, Lyman said, which means one day scientists may be able to successfully free an entangled whale off the coast of the Garden Isle, where the first humpback of the season was spotted between the Westside and Niihau late last month.

Humpback whales enter Hawaiian waters each winter to mate and give birth, likely lured by the warm waters, lower number of predators and shallow, smooth ocean bottom, Lyman said. They travel here from their feeding grounds in Alaska.

The peak season for humpback activity in Hawaii is between January and March.

Since 2002, there have been 304 large whale entanglement reports in Hawaiian waters. Of those that scientists have been able to locate and make efforts to rescue, Lyman said there has been a success rate of about 40 percent.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary aids outside organizations, such as the University of Hawaii, in their humpback whale research. In house, the sanctuary conducts visual health assessments, such as full-body scar analyses and entanglement monitoring. That’s where Lyman comes in.

But, he said, Kauai residents and visitors can help in this mission by noting the location and safely documenting with photo or video any humpback whale that appears to be suffering from an entanglement.

These sightings can be reported to the NOAA hotline at 1-888-256-9840. Boaters can also hail USCG on VHF channel 16.

Lyman noted that whales are curious, and have sometimes been known to approach vessels in the water, and, on rare occasions, smack a boat with a flipper.

In Hawaiian waters, boats and water users must keep a 100-yard buffer between themselves and humpback whales, unless a whale approaches them or their boat of its own free will.

All told, 16 whales have been observed in Hawaii since 1979 with injuries that appear to have resulted from a collision with a boat.

“If you see a whale right in the harbor, get on the radio and let the other guys know that you’ve got a situation,” Lyman said.

Productive humpback whale protection, he said, takes teamwork.

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Information from: The Garden Island, https://thegardenisland.com/

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