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. chris

    sad....but that is "life in the food chain"

    February 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. NotOurFault

    Look eventually all the Humpback Whales will die off, then Capt Kirk and Spock along with the few of the USS Enterprise will bring some Back to The Future.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Marc

    It looks like it might be a birth deformity to me. That might also explain the discoloration. Just an idea.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • PCola Vet

      Think about what you're saying Marc. The whale would've been dead a looooong time ago had this been a birth defect. It can barely swim dude. Read the story more closely.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      I know exactly what I'm saying, thank you very much. This whale shows no signs of being hit. There are no open wounds or large scars. A whale can get out of the way of the bow of a ship easily. Getting nailed by the props would create huge wounds, but would not bend the whale. I stick by my story.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Smurf

      Marc = Retard

      February 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • There be Whales Here!!

      I think it was a territorial attack by another species of whales. Killer whales are very territorial, and can hit animals at high rates of speed if they feel threatened. They have also been known to pick on smaller species of porpoises. They have videos of Killer Whales being highly aggressive to porpoises for sport on youtube. They don't leave marks because the damage is so great just from impact that it hits internal organs, or in this case the spinal cord. If it was an old wound that he survived there would probably be evidence of scarring. Whales hear extremely well underwater so I doubt he was hit by a ship. If they can hear other whales singing from miles away I'm sure they can hear a ship coming. His discoloration is probably from being sick, and dying. Poor guy. God speed 😦

      February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom Weidermeijer

      @ PC & Smurf

      Yeah, Marc isn't really Jacques Cousteau.

      IF it was a defect, it would have died as a calf.

      Yes, fit whales can easily get out of the way of a ship, since they can hear and feel the pressure differential, but if it was old and sick... probably not so much.

      It looks EXACTLY what you would expect from damage from a ship's bow.

      Also, there would be serious damage if it was orcas.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      Sorry Tom..your wrong,

      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 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Slim

    I will be come nice meal for some starving sharks.

    February 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom Weidermeijer

      It will feed lots of members of the food chain, from sharks on down to crabs and hagfish when it gets to the bottom.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. KDW31

    Is it sad the whale was hit by a ship and crippled? Yes. But the article clearly stated that whales usually are able to easily avoid being hit by ships. It then went on to say the whale was more than likely already sick and dying when it was struck. So no matter what this whale was going to die in the near future. Everyone stating that ships should have sonar to spot whales are failing to remember the host of recent studies that have linked areas with high sonar use to beaching of whales and signs that the whales were suffering from the bends. I don't know about you but one sickly whale being struck and injured seems like a better trade than dozens of whales dying due to increased sonar use. Also a ship takes miles to stop. By the time it detected there was a whale in it's path it would be to late. The humane thing to do would be to euthanize the whale, if possible.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Even Sadder...

    Whilie this is very sad (I just got back from Maui and did some whale watching and it was amazing!!), what is even sadder to me is that most people who want to "Save the Whales" and "End the suffering" do not care about unborn children that are aborted. We should take care of our own before we worry about the animals. (Not to say we shouldn't be worried about animals, but people should be a priority).

    February 9, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      Analyze your own statement to find the answer. Here's a clue, it all revolves around some preconceived notions involving "suffering" and how to best minimize it.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ChuckyCheese69

    I love whales. They're delicious!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mikey

    It's very sad to see. It's not the ship's fault and there is nothing that they could have done after the fact. It's not the whale's fault as it was just swimming and doing what whales do. What I have a problem is with the mean spirited comments that some people are making. If people have compassion for the innocent animal that's just trying to live it's life what's so wrong with that? And if you believe that it's sad but unavoidable then that's fine, too...but you don't have to attack each other. I'm really starting to hate the average American.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff

    Jake - if you think another whale did this, you are an ... I won't say it since I don't know you and it would not be nice. Rest assured you need to pull your head out of your ass.

    That said, the ship that hit the whale did not know it was there, did not do it on purpose and therefore, a sad accident. Ships must travel about for exploration, commerce, etc. This is very, very rare occurrence - which is good.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bigtimebilly

    Poor thing, i wish someone could take it out of its misery

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

    they need too capture it and see if they can help the poor thing out.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dianna

    Well I am hoping that Moe Smith is right, I hate to see any animal suffer, and I hope its just the way its reflected under water..

    February 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Porchiaknows

    Godspeed, big fella. 😦

    February 9, 2011 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. How

    do we know the back is broken? because a pilot and tourists said so?

    February 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. There be whales here!!

    He was probably hit by a pack of territorial whales of another species. I've seen videos of killer whales bumping small porpises out of the water at high rates of speed just for sport. If they felt threatened by his presence it's very possible they would resort to violence.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Report abuse |
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