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. mohamad

    You american people worry for a stupid whale but you don't care about our people suffering in palestine and afghanistan you arrogant infidels soon our Lord Osama will kill all of you

    February 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • JT

      LOL! So tell me troll, how are the people of palestine and afghanistan even remotely related? Oh wait, they're not. They are probably more related to americans than each other.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Unit34Ahunt

    That whale has obviously survived in this condition for a long time. The back wound looks completely healed, and the tail just back of the wound and to the fluke has completely atrophied. What a survivor!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Loogin

    Its amazing to me that people act as though the human race are 'amazing' in any way. We're a plague on this planet and are slowly killing it, and everything on it. Look how many species are extinct, and how many more are in danger of being wiped away forever. We're losing our forests. The ocean is growing sicker by the day. The ice caps are shrinking due to the damage we've done. Look at the damage done from the oil spill in the gulf. We're even filling the space surrounding this poor planet with crap by continually launching new things without removing the old.

    Mankind has LOTS to answer for, yet all most people can do it rattle on about how 'superior' we are to every other species sharing this planet with us.

    What happened to that poor creature is a crying shame and if something can be done to end or ease its suffering it should be done. The whole 'let nature take its course' theory many here are on board for is a farce. Nature didn't injure the whale. This creature is suffering due to something mankind did. We're responsible and we should be figuring out a way to help it.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CaptainReza

    I love sea life! I am around them every week! I have been close to whales and they are very shy! They hear something, they are going deep! This is certainly a big boat damage! Here's a whale video I took on my waverunner
    and dolphin shots

    February 9, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  5. charles

    If any of you guys had a clue about what you are talking about I would be amazed. If you have spent any amount of time at all around any kind of water dwelling animals such as fish, you would know that this happens from time to time with them. I've saw countless fish over the years with broken/deformed backs from BIRTH that were not caused by humans and they can live, eat, swim just as good as the others that are normal. Their swimming is usually just a little awkward lookng but the overall health of the fish is fine. I'm glad we don't put people out of their misery just because they have a deformed leg, foot, hand, arm, limb, etc. Get out of the house some people and experience nature first hand. You'll see stuff/examples/etc like this whale's back is out there all on its own everyday. Now, if it was a tanker that did this I will gladly take all this back, but if I were to put money on it, I would say it was a birth defect and the pilot(whom is not a whale expert and has only just assumed it was hit by a ship) just happened to be flying at the right place at the right time to capture the photograph as the whale was on its last leg. You know folks, stuff does get old and die on its own. It's not always our fault because something is dying. Get out from behind the computer sometime and take a walk, investigate the outdoors!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I agree 100%. Let's not kill something because we "THINK" we know what happened.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Unit34Ahunt

      Well, there is a rather large and obvious scar on the whale's back that starts just forward of the atrophied tail. It sure looks like the whale was struck by a vessel. Or maybe one of those falling pieces of Soviet space junk.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. justin

    It's very sad to see such a beautiful animal die. But remember it is part of the circle of life. There are animals that only live in and around wale "falls". Some animals that eat dead wales have been around for millions of years (before wales), It is believed they ate fallen dinosaurs before wales came along.It is estimated that a wale can provide food and a community for up to 100 years after it settles on the ocean floor. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if it wasn't for dead wales there would be a couple of extinct species, and in the "desert" that is most of the ocean floor a large wale body is a gift to the creatures that live there that will keep on giving for decades.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • justin

      And yes, I noticed I misspelled whale lol.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  7. PK

    This is clearly a case of Whale Scoliosis. If only early detection from our school systems was possible, this tragedy could have been avoided with a orthopedic brace.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Navygirl

    A tanker ship probably hit it, they should be a report with the US Coast Guard on Oahu, or if the US Navy hit the poor whale there would be a report in Pearl Harbor and a copy with the US Coast Guard. If there is no report they are keeping it a secret or it happened somewhere else.

    Easy way of finding out who hit it is take a look around the harbors of Oahu and look for some hull damange. Not hard.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • jim

      um, yeah. and then what?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • chris

      not a naval engineer but i'd assume that whale accelerates substantially faster in the water than a large tanker. Having a hard time picturing an adolescent tanker captain running down whales like a stray cat...

      February 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Denizen Kate

      Does it matter who hit the poor thing? Whaling may be illegal, but is it against the law to accidentally run a ship into one that may be too old or sick to get out of the way? A ship large enough to do the damage shown in the photo cannot turn or stop very easily. So what would be the point of finding out who did it?

      February 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Russ

      @Denizen Kate

      Persecution complex much?

      There could be important details about the accident (perhaps something particular this incident) that might contribute to a reduction of whale collisions in the future. Never shrug off an opportunity to collect data to LEARN.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • blue

      Like the article said, these whales are pretty agile, so this one was likely too old or sick to move out of the way. And if a tanker hit it, it wouldn't have even seen it, or felt it.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richp, Easton, Pa

      One of the things we used to sweat was surfacing and deep draft tankers down to 100feet plus, from the time of the surface command both periscopes were manned and doing 360's looking almost straight up and a constant drone of 'no shapes no shadows' from the OOD and XO sonar active and pinging. Nothing to mess around with and surfacing can have a high pucker factor. Even with all that technology we almost got a cruise ship that was stopped and dead in the water off of Charleston. With whales we could mostly hear them well out past 10 miles. I'm not a tree hugger but I think that hunting whales is way past ending.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • jwthiers

      @I LoveWhalesSoMuchILickThem
      If youare going to complain about peoples grammar, don't do so using a run on sentence.

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

      It was most likely a submerged Alien ship that plowed into while flying out of the water.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      Its sad to see what humans are doing to nature.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      You people are a bunch of tallywackers

      February 9, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I guess it's a "humpback" whale afterall.... 😉

      I don't like seeing whales hurt, though. Beautiful and magnificent creatures.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Albert E

      Incidents like this are probably rare but, just like people in daily life that get killed or injured due to the hazards of the environment. I am also in the Navy and on Submarines as a Sonar Supervisor and I can tell you we have had several incidents with whales and Dolphins getting too close to the ship's screw which is powered by nuclear energy and has no mercy for anything in its path. Curiosity in this adverse environment can kill the fish!!!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Simon

      @I LoveWhalesSoMuchILickThem
      If youare going to complain about peoples grammar, don't do so using a run on sentence.

      That's not a run-on sentence. Oh, and you didn't put a space between "you" and "are" NYAH!!!

      February 9, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • TCE

      All the grammar comments aside, this is really sad. The whale should not be allowed to continue to suffer; it should somehow be put down. There must be some humane way to do it.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Why?

      All animals die, most suffer as they do... you (the reader) will likely suffer too...That is why we read these stories about a slow painful death, we fear it.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Glen

      hahahahahahahahahahahahahah WOW!

      February 9, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jesse

      So technically it's a Brokeback Whale.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • seriously


      February 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angel Jones

      This think this is just stupid. Yes a whale can have a broken back, but this is probably a refraction.

      February 9, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • mmmmmichael

      you know, navygirl, the lord ruined a perfectly good rearend when he put teeth in yours!!!

      February 9, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. survivor

    How incredibly sad, but everything and everyone must die some day. I just don't think it should be flaunted by this article.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • FirstResponder

      Yes, but there is a difference between a NATURAL death and an UNNATURAL death. This is clearly UNNATURAL, wouldn't you agree?

      February 9, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      I think PERHAPS I would agree.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • smeegle

      Yes, true, everyone must be hit by a tanker and have their back broken some day. Thanks for putting it in perspective.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • jongalt

      how could you possibly know it was done by a ship? there isn't any evidence what so ever that is the case. there are probably other scenarios that could have caused this unfortunate event. and whilst i am ranting,who are we to decide to whether this creature should be 'put down'? it might be the 'humane' thing to do, but this whale is not human.

      February 9, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jbaby

    Not here to blame anyone, but that whale needs a pound of C4 put on its head. Nature can seem to be very cruel at times, but also provided a good life to this creature. Sad!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      There is no need to kill it. It will provide food for much of the sea life. This is a normal process. When we try to get involved we just tend to make matters worse. I don't blame the boats. I'm sure nobody decided to run this poor guy over. Now mother nature should be allowed to take its course and feed the others. We need to just respectfully stay out of the way.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I agree 100% Linda.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • JimmyD

      Sure there's no need to kill it, but it would be best for the whale if it were put out of it's miserly instantly. It will still end up as crab food, the only difference is it will not suffer for days.

      Probably a moot point anyway, as the whale hasn't been spotted recently per the article. Hope it's at peace.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • kado

      Seems obvious but, here goes: If you kill the whale to release it from its continued misery, it will still provide food for birds and sea life, as long as you don't poison it. Ichthyologists: I think this is a good time to begin establishing a method for euthanising a large whale.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • seriously

      i just think it'd be awesome to see a whale explode

      February 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Daniel

    Poor guy. But that's life.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      It's not a natural life. They haven't evolved to face the threat of ships. I wouldn't say "that's life" if a satellite fell from orbit and killed somebody... that's just not natural.

      February 9, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • jo.

      if they hadn't evolved to face ships, many more of them would be seen with similar injuries. The fact is, this is a decent example of natural selection (in a sense). Had this particular whale been able to avoid the ship, he wouldn't be dying (assuming that the whale didn't have any other life threatening conditions)

      February 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vigilant Satyr

      James – The ones that survived the scourge of the hit and run ships by swimming away from the noisy slow moving behemoths have taken the first step in the evolution of the humpbacks to avoid shipping hazards. I'll bet in 40 or 50 generations almost no humpbacks will be killed by noisy slow moving shipping.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Taylor

      I'm with you James- its not natural. I hope the fact that he hasn't been seen means he has peacefully passed away. Though on a side note, I would think you could heal / rehab marine life. They are floating most of the time which is good for humans. (I broke my femur and right after I was out of my cast I was in a pool). Anyways, wishful thinking, but it'd be nice if he was able to heal up.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • kado

      Is that what you'd say to someone who got shot? That's life? No, it isn't. That's the human species' effect on nature.
      It is not life. It is just the opposite. Don't make light of something that never should have happened. As to those folks who think that people care about animals to the exclusion of humans, WHERE, exactly do you get that idea? Huh? We have children in our lives and love them. But, we have plenty of love and concern to spread around. There are problems for children and animals in this country from irresponsible and sometimes cruel adults. To ignore problems of one does nothing to improve problems of the other.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Behavioral evolution /adaptation to man-altered environments... interesting concept, but hey, I've been seeing squirrels hit by cars for decades, and there is no sign of the surviving ones conferring the ability to avoid cars to the next generation, and I'm sure their generations go by a lot faster than whales. Maybe man-made objects are just too different to the degree that there is no genetic capacity to adapt.

      February 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. labkuba

    This is a Hoax! This is a simple example of the refractive index of water. Sunlight bends when it hits water. As the angle increases the bending effect increases. From the picture you can see the bend is greatest at the ripple in the water where the angle is greatest. Doesn't anybody remember the pencil in water trick from grade school? Put a straight pencil in a glass of water and it will look broken. The pilot is either pulling one over on us or it is a sick whale and an optical illusion.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Denizen Kate

      I thought the same thing when I first saw the picture, but unlike you, I actually read the article. The pilot observed the whale for a time and noticed that it wasn't moving its fluke (that's the tail fin, by the way) and seemed to be "limping." I'm willing to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and believe that the whale's back was broken.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • zamboni

      Labkuba – this is not a hoax – I have personally met the photographer who took this photo and I have actually been up with the birds in paradise pilots two years ago in Kauai during my honeymoon. That photo is not an optical illusion because A: the whale is very close to the surface and his whole body is not distorted and B: while you are up there you fly over things slowly. They were watching and evaluating this whale for some time. It wasn't like they just fly over quickly. You are flying up there in a Trike – not a plane or a helicopter. They are giant hang-gliders with motors. It is quite thrilling actually and you see amazing things. What happened to this whale is very sad. He should not be left alone to suffer.

      February 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • kauailady

      labkuba, Aloha. This was no hoax, i personally had dinner last night with the pilot who took this picture. It was sad listening to him talk about it. He is a good friend and an honest man. He would never try to do something like that. He is going back up today to see if he can locate the whale again. all we can hope for is that it is over soon so the whale doesn't suffer anymore.

      February 9, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • seriously

      i read the article. it is a hoax.

      February 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Frank

    How do you know that it was not a birth defect? There is birth defect in every animal or human. Why everyone assumes that it was caused by an accident.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Soooo... how long do you think a new born animal can survive in the wild with a broken back?

      February 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Busted

      Seriously? Read the article again....

      February 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. die

    i wish they'd help it die sooner. 🙁

    February 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • marcia

      if someone can't help him that would be the next best thing. at least he could die quickly!

      February 9, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mike

    Well, I guess it was just this whale's time to have its back broken by a giant ship. Nature can be so cruel some times.

    February 9, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • kado

      Gee, Mike. When you get that x-ray with the big tumor in it, write us.
      I'll respond: Nature can be so cruel sometimes. 🙂

      February 9, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
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