Hawaii pilot spots badly injured whale
Birds in Paradise owner-flight instructor Gerry Charlebois photographed this mortally injured humpback whale off the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
February 9th, 2011
12:06 PM ET

Hawaii pilot spots badly injured whale

A humpback whale with an apparently broken back has been spotted in waters near Hawaii, a newspaper reports.

Gerry Charlebois, who takes student pilot/tourists for coastal excursions in ultralight aircraft, spotted the injured whale from the air Monday in shallow water near Kauai.

"He wasn't moving his fluke and was just staying near the surface and sort of limping down the coast," he said. "It's kind of sad to see a full adult whale in that condition. ... It's definitely something he's not recovering from."

"This is one of the most disturbing sights I've ever experienced while photographing whales," Charlebois, the owner of Birds in Paradise Flight School, told The Garden Island Newspaper. "It was freaky. The whale was bent in half. Obviously some kind of blunt force trauma on the side. The poor guy was in trouble."

A large boat or ship must have struck the whale, which hasn't been seen since Monday, he said. Humpbacks normally are pretty agile, so this one may have been old or sick an unable to move out of a ship's way, he said.

Birds in Paradise manager Kirk Johnson said Charlebois and others on the flight first thought they'd seen an albino whale, but when they came around to take another look, they could see that it was discolored instead.

Ed Lyman of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary on Maui told the paper the whale appeared to be in poor health - emaciated, shedding skin and surrounded by parasites - and there is no established method for euthanizing a large whale.

These big whales tend to die slowly, Charlebois said. When they do, they sink to the bottom until decomposition gases make them float to the surface, where they attract large numbers of hungry sharks, he said.

"It's amazing to see these 15-foot sharks all feeding on a whale," Charlebois said. "You don't want to be snorkeling around there. You don't want to be in that neighborhood."

Charlebois said he and his three other pilots would look for signs of the injured whale again today.

About 2,000 humpback whales live in the waters off Alaska, and many of them migrate to Hawaii's warm waters between November and May, according to Earthtrust.org. Whale watching is a major part of Hawaii's tourism industry. Adult humpbacks range in size from 35 to 48 feet, and weigh about 1 ton per foot.

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Filed under: Animals • Environment • Hawaii • Whales
soundoff (615 Responses)
  1. xvp

    Wow that looks like 10 tones of chinese tuna!

    February 9, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  2. sumdumguy

    Disney's newest movie...coming to a theater near you....Broke Back Whale.

    February 9, 2011 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Greg, MN

    The whale is photographed upside down. It would be interesting to know if it every moved or anything. The article said "most likely has a broken back". I would re-phrase that to "most likely HAD a broken back". If it does not have the ability to flip back around and get oxygen it MOST LIKELY died of suffocation.

    February 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • anonymous

      It is not upside down. You can see the eye on the right side of the head....looks like it was hit by a CRUISE SHIP.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • nobel

      Greg, it is not upside down. What are you talking about?

      February 9, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • jus me

      Actually the whale IS right side up.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Popeye

      If you have ever seen a whale hit by a ship, there is carnage everywhere. A blow severe enough to break its back would also cause a very serious flesh wound, which this one clearly lacks. In short, it would have been killed. Google it and find out.

      Bear in mind that the whale expert detailed the whale appeared to be very ill with shedding skin and parasites. The pilot, who is NOT a whale expert, went for the sensationalist viewpoint. Just because the pilot sees a lot of whales does not make him a whale expert. Much the same way a person in New York city is not an expert on architecture or anthropology even though surrounded by buildings a people.

      The whale is dying from an illness or old age.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • jujubeans

      It is upside down. See it's mouth. And it's not a broken back, it's been eaten away.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      So popeye you're the expert?

      February 9, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • the devil

      all im saying is if you're going to rephrase something that doesn't NEED it, don't mess your own stuff up.

      "t would be interesting to know if it every moved or anything."

      god morons...so many of them. everywhere.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • BIPManager

      Hey guys, This photo was taken 1/4 mile off shore using a cannon Rebel XTi at about 850 feet up. We have SEVERAL more photos of the injury from many angles. Don't know why the media chose this on out of all of them but the whale WAS alive at the time of the photos. We have pics of him coming to surface and spouting too. He Is upright, NOT upside down. Hope this helps solve any questions. Kirk, Manager, Birds In Paradise.

      February 10, 2011 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jacques Itch

    Christ – just shake it off moby. You can alway buy one of these contraptions: https://www.teetertv.com/

    February 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. kargo27

    Seriously, how the h e l l do you break a whale's back??? Are they sure it wasn't a birth defect? How do they know it's a broken back? Maybe it's whale scoliosis.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      You can't be serious.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Niveus_Vulpes

      A birth defect? Really?! Are people so dense? If it was a birth defect, especially of that nature, the animal would not live long enough. And thank you so much BIPManager with that whole right-side up/up-side down problem. I can't believe people wouldn't at least notice the smooth, somewhat flat top of the head and bowled inward bottom of the jaw to indicate it was right-side up. I mean common people, it's a common visual trait of the this species of whale. I hate to say it, but wiki your facts before you open your mouth!

      February 12, 2011 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Davethecanuck

      Verdicts in, looks like you are correct kargo27.

      Too bad brilliant critics like these two don't come back to hang their heads and give credit.

      February 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Amy

    That is so sad. 😦

    February 9, 2011 at 7:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • DrC Ohio

      This is very sad. I don't know if a ship took this one out, but the possibility seems high. We need to have more protections in place. All sorts of marine life is under attack by those large ocean going vessels-from noise pollution to direct hits. I wish those in powerful positions would do something that would benefit wildlife and benefit us all-=not just the extreme wealthy.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. eigenflow

    Don't think maybe this is an optical illusion? The wave crest is right where the 'break' appears...

    February 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Tom

    The problem with this planet is too many stupid people and not enough whales.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • purpleflower

      Great comment.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • allyjayne

      best comment i've ever read.
      i want that on a tshirt.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whalie

      I concur

      February 9, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • amsjll

      I also want that on a t-shirt. Best comment ever.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. wedonotknowwhathappened

    Since the article states, a humpback whale weighs 1 ton per foot and they can range from 35 to 48 feet, could this not be an injury from another whale, accidental or otherwise. If a 40 ton whale breached on top of another whale, would it break its back? I don't know but suspecting that a cruiseship hit it, is a stretch. These are pretty smart animals, i am sure that they have learned to avoid us Humans when they feel like it.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • accidents happen

      Humans are supposed to be smart and they get hit by cars all the time. They fall off parking garages, drink themselves to death and drive while texting. Just because a species has the potential for intelligence doesn't mean every member possesses it and even smart individuals get into accidents.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • pattydiva


      February 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Optical distortion

    Notice the short waves distorting the view of the tail. Now notice the longer waves creating a greater distortion of the back. Combine this with the angle of the photograph and natural up and down motion of the humpback whale, and you get obvious deformation created by the water, not by a broken back. The whale is in good health.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • duh

      The pilot reported no movement of the dorsal flukes over the span of time he was watching and that the whale was sloughing skin, emaciated and surrounded by parasites. How many dimensions of ill health do you need to believe a prognosis of not good?

      February 9, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jujubeans

      It's dead, floating upside down with part of it's tail eaten away.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Optical distortion

      Well that's just my take on it as a photographer. I would like to see the other photographs. Also, where are the waves coming from if not from the movement of the tail? You can see the pattern of the water that would indicate movement directly behind the tail. Keep in mind that they use ultra light aircraft not helicopters. This is interesting in a strictly analytical point of view, albeit horrible if the body position is a true indication of the animal’s health.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Optical distortion

      The tail is normal. The distortion makes it look like there is a piece missing.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Optical distortion

      And it is most certainly not upside down.

      February 9, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • TulsaTrav

      The whale tail goes up and down, not side to side...No distortion, Broke Bach Whale

      February 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Charlotte

    How terribly, terribly sad. Yet another example of the inexcusable brutality and callous lack of concern that people exhibit when just wanting to do whatever the he*ll they want, irrespective of the consequences to the poor creatures whom we are supposed to be stewards of. What can I say? There is no punishment severe enough for whoever was piloting the boat that did this. I hope the poor whale is out of its misery soon. 😦

    February 9, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kat50

      sigh... get a grip people. We are human, we go about our business. A deer hit me one time (yes it hit Me) on my way back from my dad's, does that mean I can't drive to my dad's two hours away? Does that mean I can't drive a car because a deer 'might' get hit? She it happens...

      February 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rod

      Are you serious!! The world needs less people like you who ALWAYS put a living creature in front of everything! Except a human fetus! Accidents happen in the world. Some accidents happen because of man and some happen due to nature itself. How it has always been and always will be! It is a FISH. It is going to die and feed 1000's of other creatures. Don't worry, another whale will be born! People like you make me sick. Get a life.

      February 9, 2011 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • ramrod

      Hey Rod, a whale is actually a mammal, not a fish. It's great minds like yours that make this human overpopulation problem just dandy. There is no balance in nature when we HUMANS tip the scale so far. I'm glad there's someone who cares about this one insignificant whale, as I do too.

      February 11, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Alice

      Inexcusable brutality? Okay, go drive a ship for me and swerve around the whales like you'd avoid hitting a deer. Good luck.

      February 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. scott

    Somebody put a cork in that blowhole and film the sharks already.......

    February 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mary

    One possibility that will not have any evidence- if this is a male it could have easily been wounded while competing for a female to mate with. As shown briefly in the BBC series Life, whales of this size are known to compete and sometimes mortally wound each other for a female.

    February 9, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. BBQ

    Obama supports the "idea" of change

    February 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ideeli

    Obama supports the "idea" of change.

    February 9, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
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