Whale watching in Hawaii
Every winter, thousands of humpback whales travel to the warm, shallow waters of Hawai‘i to mate, give birth, and raise their young.
Almost two thirds of North Pacific humpback whales (estimates range from 4,000 to 10,000 whales) migrate to Hawaiian waters each winter to bear and nurse their calves and to mate.
The main whale watch season in Hawaii lasts from December 15 to April 15 when about 10,000 humpback whales populate the Hawaiian waters.
On Oahu, your best bet to see whales from land is the area around the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail. This popular and easy to traverse paved trail provides open water views to the east where the coastline drops quickly deep into the ocean. Whales and calves often come very close to shore and can be observed from the lighthouse trail viewing platform high above.
Although humpback whales can be found in Oahu, Big Island, Kauai and outer islands, they are most populated in the Maui Nui Basin which is settled between Maui, Lanai and Molokai. It is fairly shallow and offers reef areas that act as safe nurseries for mother humpback whales giving birth or with their young.
Maui is the headquarters for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and the sanctuary boundary encompasses the leeward coastline of the entire island of Maui.
The sanctuary encompasses 1,400 square miles (3,600 km2) in the islands' waters. It was designated by the United States Congress on November 4, 1992, as a National Marine Sanctuary to protect the endangered North Pacific humpback whale and its habitat. The sanctuary promotes management, research, education and long-term monitoring.
Humpback whales are a type of baleen whale, the largest mammals on earth and there are more than a dozen species of them! They are called baleen whales because they have baleen, a fringe-like filter in their mouth used to capture small fish and plankton for food! Another characteristic that differentiates baleen whales from toothed whales is a pair of blowholes they have (other types of whales only have a single blowhole). Humpback whales are also known for their large pectoral fins and fluke (or tail) markings that are unique to every humpback whale.
Humpback whales can weigh 30-50 ton - that’s 60,000 to 100,000 lbs! Female humpbacks are actually larger than males, ranging from 49-52ft, whereas adult males are 43-46 ft long, the size of a school bus! Humpback whales live to an average of 50 years, and don’t have many predators, except the Orca (killer whale) that preys on young humpback whales.
Humpback whales engage in many surface behaviors including breaching, spyhopping, pec and tail slapping; these are used to communicate with each other. They also sing beautiful songs, which we can hear when we place a hydrophone into the water! This song is sung solely by male humpback whales, but mom and calf pairs use quiet vocal noise to communicate with each other during migration.