Every December thru May Hawaii’s warm waters become home to the breathtaking humpback whale. These graceful and majestic animals come to Hawaii to breed and give birth to their new calves. The whales love the warm shallow water surrounding the islands and scientist’s estimate that two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population returns to Hawaii each year.
Humpback whales grow between 40-52 feet and can weigh up to 45 tons! Besides their large size and weight the whales are surprisingly graceful. You can spot the whales breaching from the water – defying gravity and throwing up to 40 percent of their bodies out of the water. They land with a spectacular splash that is truly a sight to see. You might also spot their large tails slapping the water or their heads rising from the waves.
As well as being amazing acrobats the humpback whales are also famous vocalists. The male whales “sing” beneath the sea and their beautiful melodies can be heard up to 12 miles away underwater.
The North Pacific humpback whales swim from the Gulf of Alaska to Hawaiian waters in less than two months. Their arrival each season is often considered a homecoming visit by native Hawaiians. Since humpback calves are born in Hawaiian waters they are considered “kamaaina” or native born. Many believe these gentle giants are family guardians of the islands and they are treated with great respect and love.
Sadly, decades of whaling shrunk the humpback whale population. Luckily in 1992 the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was established to protect the animals and their habitat. The sanctuary promotes education, outreach, research and resource management. The protected habitat extends from the shoreline to the 600-foot depth around the islands and is managed jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the State of Hawaii.
Read below for some more fast facts about humpback whales!
- Adult humpback whales surface every 7 to 15 minutes to breathe, but can stay submerged for up to 45 minutes. Calves must rise to the surface every three to five minutes.
- An estimated 12,000 whales migrate to Hawaii each year
- Humpbacks are baleen whales that feed on tiny shrimp-like krill, plankton, and small fish.
- Calves do not stop growing until they are 10-years old
- Humpbacks sing to communicate with others and to attract potential mates. These sequences of moans, howls, cries, and other noises are quite complex and often continue for hours on end.