By ERIN MILLER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Anecdotal reports indicate the humpback whales have returned to Hawaii Island, although the only official report to the Hawaii Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary has been an Oct. 4 sighting off Maui.
Marine conservation coordinator Justin Viezbicke, who is based on Hawaii Island for the sanctuary, said he’s heard from friends of whale sightings near Waikoloa.
An anonymous boater left a message with Stephens Media Hawaii on Thursday reporting two humpback whales near Honokohau Harbor.
This makes for a later start to whale sighting season in West Hawaii than the past few years. In 2011, the first report in West Hawaii waters was the week of Sept. 27. In 2012, the initial sighting was made in late August.
The rules this whale season remain the same as past years, Viezbicke said. Vessels and people are asked to maintain a 100-yard distance from humpback whales. If the whale approaches a motorized vessel, officials ask the operator to put the engine in neutral, to avoid injuring the whale with a propeller.
If a whale surfaces closer than 100 yards to someone in a nonmotorized vehicle, say a kayak or standup paddle board, that person should try to move away from the whale, Viezbicke said.
Other tips for motorized vehicle operators include “watch your speed, keep somebody on the helm at all times and have a lookout,” Viezbicke said.
Adult humpback whales can remain underwater for up to 20 minutes, while the calves might stay submerged for just three to four minutes.
The humpback whale population has maintained an annual 4 percent population increase, Viezbicke said, although it’s difficult to say whether that means Hawaii residents and visitors will see more whales than in past years.
Email Erin Miller at emiller@ westhawaiitoday.com.