Whale, Whale, Whale. What Do We Have Here?

2017-11-22 00:39:17


Humpback whales are vacationing along the Hawaiian Islands! Now is the perfect time to see them in their natural habitat. Local favorite viewing spots include Sandy Beach, Makapu'u Lighthouse, Diamond Head, Halona Blowhole, and Koko Head Crater. Humpback whales are known for their massive size, and although they are not the largest species of whale, they are considered by some to be the most impressive. Their scientific name translates to "big-winged New Englander" because of the way they were originally described in the North Atlantic. The pectoral fins of humpbacks can be up to 1/3 their entire length. The females are usually larger (around 45 feet long), compared to the males (averaging 42 feet in length) which translates to a perfect example of reverse sexual dimorphism. The calves will weigh approximately 3,000 lbs and be 15 feet long when they're first born. The females are usually on the heavier side at around 90,000 lbs or 45 tons.
If you're ever lucky enough to see them in Hawaii, between November and March, they may be traveling in pods and socializing. As I mentioned earlier, the whales are “vacationing” while they are in warmer waters, so they will not be feeding for the entire 5-6 months they are in Hawaii. Humpbacks spend their summer months in Alaska bulking up on blubber, for energy, by consuming thousands of pounds of krill. This means that all of the whales migrating down from Alaskan waters are instead spending their time here mating, calving, or giving birth. This is good news for us because we have an opportunity to see the whales showing off their acrobatic abilities. Males in particular will be trying to mate with the females and flaunting the best way they know how: with powerful demonstrations of their agility. Breaching, tail fluke slaps, pectoral slaps, and singing are all ways that male whales can try and prove their worth to the ladies in the area. As you can imagine, the weight of a 42 ton whale slamming down onto the surface of the water would make quite an impression. Hawaii gets about 1/3 of the entire North Pacific population, which equals between 6,000-8,000 individuals on an annual basis. Humpbacks can be found in all oceans of the world and their numbers are finally starting to recover after being hunted to near extinction for their blubber.
If you are going to try your luck spotting some of these magnificent gentle giants, remember they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and that requires us to maintain a 150 foot distance from any marine mammal. The best way to see them from land is from a higher vantage point and look for "the blow". The blow is a humpback whale coming up for air. Again, they are mammals just like us, and they hold their breath when under water. The CO2 in their lungs (which are the size of a compact car) can be expelled at 300mph. The water and air create a geyser effect that extends 30 feet up and could last a couple seconds. This is usually the first indication that whales are in the area! Since most individuals come up to breathe every 10 minutes or so, you may need to bring your binoculars and your patience when whale spotting.