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Ed Lyman: Saving majestic marvels of the sea

By Staff | Mar 26, 2015

Ed Lyman on a whale watch shortly before flying to Hawaii Island for a whale rescue. PHOTO BY NORM BEZANE.

LAHAINA – “David, pole. Clear. Cut. Cut made!” The humpback whale, loaded down with fishing gear or marine debris, swims loose and free. Another day in the life of the phenomenal Ed Lyman and rescue teams who will fly off to any Hawaiian island when there is news of an entangled whale needing rescue.

Appearing with dozens of the world’s premier whale researchers, filmmakers and photographers at the recent Whale Trust Maui event, Lyman traced the history of entangled rescues dating to the 1970s.

The first attempts involved kegging: attaching floatable kegs to an endangered whale to keep it on the surface. A hockey stick with a blade was used to cut loose entangling ropes.

Lyman began the work that over the years would rescue some 79 whales in Alaska. Control lines were first affixed. This led to the famous Nantucket sleigh ride – a whale pulling a boat at rapid speeds, as they did when they were harpooned by New England whalers in the 1840s.

It turns out that whales regard Lahaina as their own paradise, but entangled whales can be found in places from Newfoundland to Tonga, Alaska to Australia. Some 80 entangled whales in have been rescued in Newfoundland alone.

When he and others expanded their mission from Alaska in summer to Hawaii in winter, they found what Lyman calls “a magical environment.” Assisting him, he said, were people with the spirit of aloha. He indicated he has never been anywhere where the cooperation of seamen has been so great.

Techniques have changed. Now the rescue teams use a “flying knife” of hardened steel to cut entangling lines. The poles and their control lines can be as long as 35 feet and are sometimes made from ship’s masts. The latest innovation is cameras – two to provide a three-dimensional look – placed near the cutting point to make possible easy vision and a clean cut.

Sometimes, said Lyman, as he scanned the sea on a Whale Trust whale watch, “you have to make sure you do not slip off the boat.”

When freed, some whales zoom away at breakneck speed. Others dally, perhaps not knowing they are free.

As to the man’s experience with whales, there has been a sea change. In Tonga, inhabitants once hunted whales. Now they work to save the entangled creatures.

Today, the great thing is that humpbacks and other whales do not have to contend with tough characters like the fictional Captain Ahab. And no longer do they have to fear the cry made famous by Herman Melville: “Thar She Blows!”

Columnist’s Notebook: Kapano Gecko, the fictional character who sometimes writes here, was amused by the recent letter to the paper saying Norm has a lot of free time. Gecko can rarely get a hold of him, since he is busy writing a column, producing a daily Kaanapali Beach photo blog, posting dozens of photos on the new Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunset website, and working on three custom books and doing the final proofreading for a fourth book delayed since last October, because there has not been enough time to work on it. “In his spare time,” Gecko notes, “he eats three square meals a day, takes daily exercise and photo-op tours on the Kaanapali Beach path, and keeps up on the news by reading excerpts from the New York Times every day at the Marriott Starbucks, watching parts of ‘Morning Joe,’ all of Lawrence O’Donnell, and ’60 Minutes’ and ‘Face the Nation’ on Sunday after attending church service at one place or another.” Bezane could not be reached for comment.