WAILUKU, Hawaii — The number of whales getting tangled up in fishing gear in Hawaiian waters has been on the decline.
No whale entanglements have been reported almost four months into the 2016-17 whale season. Ed Lyman with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said that’s the longest they’ve gone without one.
Last season, the first confirmed entanglement was in December 2015. There were a total of six entanglements during the 2015-16 season and 13 the year before, The Maui News reported Wednesday.
Lyman said the decrease could be because fewer whales are traveling south to Hawaiian waters. Warmer conditions from El Nino and the Pacific Blob, unusually warm surface water in the Northern Pacific, may have impacted their food, leaving them with little energy to make the 3,000-mile trip.
While Hawaii has yet to discover a whale tangled in debris, Alaska has confirmed two whale entanglements this season, Lyman said.
The Alaska sightings are unusual for this time of year, he said, as entanglements are more likely to happen around May or June, when the whales are heading back and more boaters are out on the water.
The number of collisions between whales and boats also appear to be declining in Hawaii. There were two non-incidental boat strikes last season, compared to five during the 2014-15 season. There has only been one boat strike reported so far this season.
“There are still entanglements. There are still boat strikes, but it’s not overtly threatening the population,” Lyman said.
In September, federal authorities took most humpback whales off the endangered species list, saying their numbers have recovered through international efforts to protect the giant mammals.
An estimated 11,000 humpback whales breed in Hawaii waters each winter and migrate to Alaska to feed during the summer, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.