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Alaska crab buoys hitch a ride to Hawaii, via humpback whale

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

Bering Sea crab pot buoys were reported last month trailing behind a humpback whale in Hawaii.

The buoy’s numbers identified the vessel, which fishes for Tanner and king crab in Alaska, according to Ed Lyman, of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Lyman, an employee of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, declined to name the fishing vessel, but praised the fisherman for his cooperation.

“No one wants to catch a whale,” Lyman said last week.

Lyman said the search for the whale continues, and that a well-intentioned effort to help the entangled marine mammal have actually made it more difficult to find and completely free the creature.  He said that’s because the buoys were cut off, which is somewhat helpful, but that lines still remain wrapped around the whale’s body.

The entangled whale was photographed from a tour boat near the island of Niihau, he said.

The humpback whale is an endangered species. Humpback whales were plentiful in oceans worldwide before the global population was depleted by commercial whaling at the start of the 20th century.

In 1993, it was estimated that there were 6,000 whales in the North Pacific Ocean, and that 4,000 of those came to Hawaii. Today, the population of humpback whales that uses Hawaii’s waters as their principle wintering ground is likely more than 10,000 animals, according to NOAA.

Hawaii is the only state in the United States where humpback whales mate, calve, and nurse their young. Humpbacks may find Hawaii is suitable because of the warm waters, the underwater visibility, the variety of ocean depths, and the lack of natural predators. Mothers can be seen breaching alongside their calves and males can be seen competing with one another for females in fierce head-to-head battles, according to NOAA.

This story first appeared in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is republished here with permission.