Hawai‘i’s beaches are
known worldwide for winter’s awesome waves and astonishing
surf tournaments. People come from around the globe to see these.
Hawai‘i’s whales are another reason to flock to Hawai‘i
From November through April, humpback whales can be seen swimming
along all of Hawai‘i’s shores, but especially between
the islands of Maui and Lana‘i.
Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are annual visitors
to the Hawaiian Islands. The warm, shallow waters surrounding
Hawai‘i’s islands are a perfect place for the whales
to breed, calve, and nurse their young before returning north
to Alaska in the spring.
These enormous mammals, some as heavy as 40 tons and as long
as five-story buildings, swim nearly 3,500 miles every year
to complete this important part of their life cycle.
The whales are a protected species that were almost driven
to extinction during the whaling boom of the 19th century,
humpbacks were killed for baleen and oil. In 1997, Congress
established the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine
to ensure their survival.
Seeing humpback whales up close wows people of every age. Their
size, up to 45 feet for males and slightly longer for females,
combined with their agility, allows them to dive deep and hurl
themselves out of the water in a spectacular sight known as
breaching, which researchers say is a form of communicating
with other whales
and helps rid the whale’s body of parasites.
Humpback whales also do tail and fin (pectoral) slaps and other
movements that display these creatures’ strength and
Because of the shallow waters between the three islands of
Maui County, Maui is the hot spot during whale watching season,
many Maui companies specialize in humpback whale sighting boat
tours. Tours range in price from about $20 to $50 for adults
and $15 to $30 for children.
At the beginning of the tour, a naturalist gives customers
background information on humpback whales and why these mammals
Hawai‘i year after year. Most tours last for two hours,
and during that time you can take pictures of the whales as
they poke their heads out of the water, swim by with a calf,
come up for air and release a geyser-like spray of vapor from
their blowholes, some as high as 20 feet.
If you haven’t been to Maui before, or if it’s been
a while since you’ve gone island hopping, this is a great
opportunity to learn something new and enjoy the ocean from a
different perspective. For more information on where you can
go to see the whales, or to visit an education center that specializes
in humpback whale details, contact the Hawaiian Islands Humpback
Whale National Marine Sanctuary’s Maui headquarters at
(808) 879-2818 or toll-free at (800) 831-4888. You can also
visit their Web site at www.hihwnms.nos.noaa.gov.