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. NH

    I'm sure the Navy could easily send out a sub or some type of naval war ship to simply put that whale out of it's misery. That is very sad.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I want my tax dollars killing our enemies not some half dead whale that is going to die anyway....

      February 9, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • DS

      I agree with you Jim. As much as I sympathize, I certainly don't want the Navy wasting their resources to kill a half-dead whale.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rich

      Yes, a cruise missle, that's the answer. That whale has probably passed on it's own already, sad day.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Cindy

    Nature did not do this damage. Whales die from being hit by tankers and other large flotilla like 'Cruise Ships'. We don't generally hear about it, but it is known by the captains of such vessels. Whales are mammals and have high intelligence and do feel pain. They sleep at the surface to avoid drowning. A tanker or cruise ship outweigh these wonderful creatures, who do not do us harm. They can run over sailboats without knowing either.
    Nature will take its course, in due time, although it may take alot longer than what we think. It has already been attacked by parasites, as it probably cannot breach any longer. Meaning, it cannot leap out of the water to slam down upon the surface with force. Swimming slowly, painfully. Whales do not eat while in their winter home of Hawaii, in this particular case. But, it would be unable to reach depth where food is found anyway.

    We have caused a great dilemma here. Allowing this whale to suffer in this way is not okay. I hope they can find a way to find this poor great creature and end its suffering. Allowed then to feed many in its decay.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • alumette

      we need to install warning devices to protect whales. Some ships have them, mainly on the East coast. It is heartbreaking to see a suffering animal. Maybe it is an old chronic injury and she has managed to survive. If we have no fast and painless way to help her, we should leave her alone.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Horrayforsanity

      Cindy, one great post in a sea of idiocy and hateful trolling.

      I'm not for the military doing anything (Jim has a point.. unfortunately). If someone privately has the know-how to put it out of it's misery, and can find it again – go for it. This is only news because this poor whale survived to be seen and photographed. This happens more frequently than you may realize.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • ouka

      It need not be a waste of of military resources or tax payer dollars. Call it a live-fire training exercise for targeting of a low-profile submersible in shallow waters. The military goes through far more ordinance in their training maneuvers than would be needed to sink one half-dead whale...

      February 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Randy


      With all due respect, I am not convinced that man had anything to do with this. Looking at that rather clear photo, it looks to me as though the poor thing has been deformed through natural causes such as Arthritus or other disease/parasite. It is truly surprising how horribly and quickly natures smallest living things can maime and deform even the strongest of bodies.

      As was stated previously, a large vessel strking a whale with enough force to damage the spine, would also leave massive lacerations at the point of impact. One would also expect to see further injuries caused by the props and rudders.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Experts are now saying a hobbled whale seen Monday near Hawaii's Kauai Island was not injured but suffers from a chronic condition, a local newspaper reports.

      The distressed humpback whale probably has scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, said David Schofield, marine mammal response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

      February 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kity

    Looks like Ohpra to me.

    February 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Alex

    The ignorance and arrogance of mankind will seal our fate eventually

    February 9, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Horrayforsanity

      Only if those that can identify insanity, let it continue to spread.

      You have to realize, humanity 'is' an inbred species.. We're all at worst 6-7th generation cousins. It's hard to get someone born nuts, to realize they don't have to be..

      Got to try though..

      February 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • phoenixjeff

      You're not human?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom Weidermeijer

      Very true.

      The Earth and simpler life forms will recover. Man will be gone... and probably a lot soon that most of us expect.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Art

    Something about it doesn't look like a blunt force trauma to me. That curvature is so extreme that wouldn't the force that caused it not also break the spinal cord and cause paralysis? Can whales get scoliosis?

    February 9, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr Doolitle

      Because the whale is fine and it's just an illusion. But let's all just take the word of a pilot instructor who sees something odd and of course comes to the conclusion it was hit by a ship despite zero evidence, broke it's back yet shows no other sign of damage and is still somehow alive. Oh, and it's a weird color so says the pilot who is not a whale expert in any way.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. msmom02

    So this sonar, that you want ot install on all ships to avoid whales how would that work?
    Its a wild animal, so you cant predict exactly where it will go, even if on a known pattern.
    And these ships are HUGE, do you know how much it takes to turn one? How would you know just because you saw a whale on radar that if you turned the whale wouldnt?

    February 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • i_bob

      Don't expect them to think their ideas through. Whatever makes them feel good is what they want. Yeah, a massive, slow moving super tanker is going to be able to successfully dodge a quick, agile whale. Right. Maybe we should also equipm jets with bird detection equipment so that a 400mph, slow-to-maneuver jet can dodge 30mph, highly maneuverable birds.
      People get really dumb when they get all emotional and turn off their brains.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You wouldn't use the sonar to avoid them. You'd use it to blast them out of the water with explosives so you didn't have to fret about euthanizing them later.

      February 9, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • i_bob


      February 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. tom

    Amazed by the number of heartless peons on here. Euthanizing it is the humane thing to do. I only hope those who would do nothing find themselves in a similar situation. May they suffer the same.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • MP

      You call shame to those who are heartless, though you share the same tendency with your comment "may they suffer the same."

      February 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      Save the heatfelt sympathy for yourself. Nobody wants to be killed just because they were injured. If I break my back and hear anyone within earshot even contemplating killing me to "put me out of my misery" they're going to be in for a heck of a surprise.

      You do realize that by killing it the only people who are going to "feel better" are people like yourself, right? Euthanasia is extremely selfish, just like suicide.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Traci

    I agree Ras137, I am depressed now. So, sad.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. native pride

    i think that if any mammals are getting hurt. the people who drive these huge boats just to see or be tourists should just not ride these huge boats. somebody has to take responsibility...and i think that the mammals should have their boundries like we all have. i think that they need their space and we should respect that. these are mammals man!

    February 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. George

    Maybe the whale was already dying or already dead before it was hit by the ship? Are they sure it is even still alive? Maybe whales surface after dying before they eventually sink. The pilot could have been at the right place at the right time, caught glimpse of it, and was able to photograph it? Remember the whale hasn't been seen again and has probably since sank to the bottom...

    February 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jack

    Call in the Navy – it's time to drop depth charges. We really should think about designing boats with blades of up front – at least the big boats. In that way they can simply cut the whale in half can cause minimal suffering.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      And maybe we can cut u in half

      February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. julie

    you know what is said whales are still being hunted today for what they say is scientific research its disgusting. tankers kill whales every day its wrong we use their home to being in oil and goods and this is what happens. its said to see a magnificent creature suffer. I was out in the farallones in Ca and surrounded by whales it was great but to see one suffer it breaks my heart. man is disgusting what we touch we destroy.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. KP

    While this is extrememly difficult to see and read about.....it opens up a lot of discussion around how we can prevent these accidents from occurring and also do we euthanize or do we allow nature to take its course? Whales are some of the most intelligent mammals on earth. It's a shame to see this poor whale so disfigured, obviously severely injured and yes suffereing. With the rapid growth of technology I don't quite understand why we can't come up with a tagging system that will stay attached to the whale for years and years and give these large ships notice when getting too close. Eventually we run the very real risk of not having these whales on earth anymore, and that is what is do disturbing to me.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Animal Lvr

    Everyone is so concerned about ONE whale... It is sad and unfortunate, but what about all of the other animals that suffer because of humans? Most people don't care enough about them to stop eating meat or to only buy "ethically" raised meat. A LOT of animals in this world suffer. If you have a problem with this, then do something about it!! Make your voice heard! 🙂

    February 9, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tom

    I'm crying.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
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