The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary said it has confirmed the first sighting of a humpback whale Thursday in waters off the Big Island.
This marks the beginning of the whale season in Hawaii and it may even be the earliest humpback sighting to be documented in recent history.
Ocean recreation tour companies Atlantis Submarines, Captain Zodiac, Kona Diving Company and Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures observed an adult humpback whale surfacing off Honokohau Harbor.
Ocean users are reminded to keep a safe distance from these annual visitors.
Endangered humpback whales are protected in Hawaii. Federal regulations prohibit approaching within 100 yards of whales when on the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft. These and other regulations apply to all ocean users, including vessel operators, kayakers, paddle boarders, windsurfers, swimmers and divers throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
"It’s important for everyone to be extra vigilant during whale season, for their own safety and the protection of the animals, and this year whale season seems to be starting early," said Justin Viezbicke, Hawaii Island Programs coordinator for the sanctuary.
Humpback whale season in Hawaii generally runs from November through May, although whales may be encountered in limited numbers during other months. More than 10,000 humpback whales winter in Hawaiian waters each year.
Boaters are reminded to post a lookout at all times throughout the year, not just when whales are visiting our waters. An extra set of eyes scanning the waters ahead and to the side of a boat can prevent collisions with marine life, obstructions, divers and other vessels.
If you come across an injured or entangled marine mammal, please maintain the required safe distance and call the NOAA Marine Mammal Hotline at 1-888-256-9840 immediately, or the U.S. Coast Guard on channel 16.
If reporting a suspected approach zone violation, please call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964. Additional guidelines and safety tips can be found at http://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.