Researchers are trying to track down a distressed humpback whale that was spotted off the coast of Maui Thursday.
It’s the first humpback whale sighting off Maui this year, which is unusually early.
The whale was spotted off Olowalu by a Blue Hawaiian helicopter conducting a sedimentation and erosion survey with Department of Land and Natural Resources chair Suzanne Case.
The Large Whale Response Network initiated a rapid response effort to assess and document the whale with assistance from the West Maui Response team, the U.S. Coast Guard, local tour companies, and boaters.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted that the adult animal was in poor condition — emaciated, very light-colored, rough-skinned, and covered in cyamid amphipods (whale lice).
At least four sharks were trailing the animal, officials said.
These are all indicators of a whale in distress. However, the whale is not entangled and does not show any signs of trauma from being struck by a vessel. The cause of the animal’s poor condition remains a mystery at this time.
“It could be sick, starving or suffering from an internal blunt trauma injury,” said Pacific Whale Foundation founder Greg Kaufman. “Whale lice are naturally occurring on humpback whales but tend to proliferate when a whale becomes weak or sick. It’s akin to death by a thousand bites.”
Most whales don’t get spotted until September or October, when they typically migrate to Hawaii to mate, calve and raise their young. NOAA says it’s unclear if this whale migrated or stayed around from last season.
Boaters who spot the whale are urged to maintain a 100-yard distance and contact NOAA’s 24-hour hotline at 1-888 256-9840, or radio the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16.