Thursday, October 2, 2008

Report on OTF Meeting of 9/19/08 (pt.4)

Here is the Pacific Whale Foundation's summary report on Greg Kaufman's testimony before the OTF Meeting of 9/19/08:

"Pacific Whale Foundation Testifies About Threats to Whales"

MA'ALAEA (MAUI, HI) -- Armed with data, charts and graphs, Pacific Whale Foundation President Greg Kaufman made the case for the Hawaii Superferry to limit its speed, follow a new route that avoids whale dense areas and take other measures to protect endangered humpback whales during wintertime operations, at a meeting of the Temporary Hawaii Inter-island Ferry Oversight Task Force. The meeting took place on Friday, September 19 at Kahului Harbor's Pier 1 Passenger Terminal and was attended by more than 100 people. (Click here to download Greg's testimony.)

During his testimony, Kaufman focused on data collected by Hawaii Superferry that showed whale sightings and near-miss encounters with whales during the ferry's operation in April 2008 -- the only full month it operated during the time of year when humpback whales are present in Hawaii.

During the winter months, when humpback whales are in Hawaii to mate, give birth and care for their young, Hawaii Superferry currently has a choice of two routes during its trips between Oahu and Maui -- a "regular route" that travels north of Molokai and an "alternative route" that travels south of Molokai.

Kaufman noted that data showed that both routes were problematic in terms of the likelihood of collisions with humpback whales, with the so-called alternate route posing an especially serious risk. He urged the task force to require the Superferry to follow another route -- neither the regular or alternative route -- to avoid whale collisions. This new route would add about 13 miles to the Superferry's "regular" route and would avoid areas where whales are found in large numbers. The route proposed by Pacific Whale Foundation would avoid the whale dense area of Penguin Bank, reduce transit time in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and minimize the amount of time the Superferry spends in waters 100 fathoms or less in depth.

According to Hawaii Superferry data from April 2008, 37 trips were made on the regular route and 11 trips followed the alternate route. Even though fewer trips followed the "alternate route," many more whale sightings and near-misses occurred along this course. In fact, 84% of the whale sightings recorded during the month of April took place while the Superferry was following the alternate route. Three of the four "near misses" that the Superferry had in April occurred while the ferry was following the alternate route.

Kaufman noted that April is a period when there are fewer whales in Hawaii than other wintertime months, because the humpback whales have begun departing for their northern feeding grounds. Even though the Superferry had limited numbers of trips during the other winter months, it is possible to extrapolate how many whale sightings and near misses would occur.

"From February 1 -29, 2008 Hawaii Superferry ran 16 ‘regular route’ trips and observed an average of 31 whales per trip. Just over six times as many whales were observed along the ‘regular route’ during February than during April," he said."Extrapolating data from the near misses on the ‘regular route’ in April to February (peak whale month) means the Superferry will have a near-miss encounter with a humpback whale during 16% of transits, or once every 6.25 trips.

"Kaufman also urged the task force to limit Hawaii Superferry to speeds of 12 knots or less in all waters of 100 fathoms or less, and while in Sanctuary designated waters, which are areas that typically have the greatest numbers of humpback whales. He pointed out that the the large mass of the Superferry, traveling at its typical speeds of 25-35 knots, will prove fatal to any whale in its path.

"Speed plays a role in collisions, but what determines the likely outcome of injury is the mass of the vessel involved in the collision," said Kaufman. "In Hawaii most, if not all, recreational craft and commercial tour boats have the fraction of the mass of a humpback whale. Whalewatch vessels are generally 10 – 50% (0.5 to 25 ton range) the mass of an adult humpback whale (which weighs 40 - 45 tons). Therefore when collisions occur between these small mass boats they are likely to injure the whale and perhaps incur some damage to themselves, but the likelihood of a fatal injury to the whale is low."

"On the other hand, the Hawaii Superferry, when lightly loaded, weighs about about 10 times the mass of a humpback, and when heavily loaded weighs about 20 times that of a humpback," he noted. "Studies have shown that when the mass of a ship is significantly greater (> 5x) than the mass of the whale, the probability of lethal strikes as a function of vessel speed is 80% at 15 knots, and 100% at 19 knots."

Kaufman also noted that Hawaii Superferry experts had testified in court that a 100-yard blind spot exists in front of the vessel. For this reason, he questioned the efficacy of the two observers the Hawaii Superferry has pledged to place on its bow to watch for whales. He recommended that the number of observers be increase to three, so that one observer could monitor a bow-mounted camera. To protect whales, Kaufman advocated that the Superferry curtail all nighttime operations with operations limited from 30 minutes prior to sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.

Others testifying at the task force meeting voiced concern that Oahu residents were coming to Maui to harvest marine resources from an already strained ocean ecosystem. In a one month period, inspections of cars and trucks waiting to board the Superferry at Maui's Kahului Harbor resulted in the confiscation of more than 412 pounds of reef fish, 38 pounds each of deeper water fish, 'and aku, 36 pounds of 'opihi, 15 pounds of octopus and 15 pounds of edible seaweed.

Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has been conducting the screenings, has said that it will drop its daily presence at the Superferry terminal at the end of the year due to staffing concerns. Instead, they will screen Superferry passengers on a random basis.

"The Hawaii Superferry needs to step up and pay for independent inspectors to check every vehicle on every cruise," says Brooke Porter, Conservation Director at Pacific Whale Foundation. "If they don't, Maui's ocean environment will suffer."

For years, Pacific Whale Foundation has asked the State of Hawaii to resolve issues relating to the safety of marine wildlife in the ferry's path, and has urged the state to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before the Superferry service is allowed to begin. However, the state legislature passed a law that allowed Hawaii Superferry to operate before the EIS was completed, under certain conditions that would be established by the governor. The Temporary Hawaii Inter-island Ferry Oversight Task Force was one of those conditions.

To read Greg Kaufman's testimony, click here.

To read more Pacific Whale Foundation's Action Alert about Hawaii Superferry, click here.

Aloha, Brad

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