From November through May, the waters of Hawaii are visited by more than 1,000 humpback whales.
These humpback whales have migrated to the warm waters of Hawaii from the north to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, east to Glacier Bay and south to the Farallon Islands off the coast of central California.
Why do humpbacks come to Hawaii?
These humpback whales come to the warm waters of Hawaii, where they breed, breed and raise their young.
This 3,500-mile journey from their summer feeding grounds takes between one and two months.
It ensures that pregnant women and mothers with newborn calves spend most of their time in the relatively warm waters of Hawaii.
Humpback calves are conceived and born near the Hawaiian Islands. (The gestation period for women is between 10-12 months).
Let’s learn some basic information about Hawaii’s annual winter guest.
What is a humpback whale?
The humpback whale is the fifth largest of the world’s great whales.
Its scientific name, Megaptera novaeangliae, was given to it in 1781 by a German naturalist named Borowski, which means “New Large-winged Englander,” in reference to the size of the whale’s huge tail fins and the fact that it once It was widely seen New England shoreline.
More commonly, the English name for humpback appears to come from the animal’s tendency to round its back when diving.
The humpback whale is grayish-black, blue-black to dark black in color, with pale to white underparts that can display black markings that vary by individual whale. It is with these markings, and particularly those found on the tail, that individual whales can be identified and population and migratory patterns recorded.
Humpback whales also have fins (or pectoral fins) located on either side of their bodies. These are used to twist and turn. Whales are mammals, just like humans, and these fins are actually modified forelimbs, with a bone structure similar to that of the human hand and arm.
When they are born, the calves weigh an average of 3,000 pounds and are between 10 and 16 feet long. They can grow between 40 and 52 feet long, and the females are slightly larger than the males.
A fully grown humpback weighs about one ton per foot, or about 84,000 – 90,000 pounds on average. Researchers believe that humpback whales live between 40 and 60 years.
What do humpback whales eat?
Humpback whales tend to feed 150-160 feet from the surface of the water.
North Pacific humpback whales consume plankton or small fish such as Pacific mackerel and saury. Whales filter their food from large amounts of water containing fish that they put into their mouths. Humpback whales have expandable ventral folds in the throat that increase the capacity of their mouths during feeding.
Once all the food is present in the mouth, the mouth is closed and the water is removed. Meanwhile, the food is caught in what are called “beard dishes” and then swallowed.
The beard grows throughout the life of a whale. Baleen is also called a whale. Baleen consists of a series of rigid and flexible material that hangs from the upper jaw.
The inside of the beard is lined with hairy plates that filter out plankton, krill, and small fish. The beard is made of keratin (the same substance that nails and hair are made of).
Humpbacks can consume up to a ton of food in a day. In general, however, they do not forage while in the waters of Hawaii, their winter breeding grounds.
How can you see humpback whales?
The best way to see humpback whales in Hawaii is with an organized boat tour. While there are many offered on each of the major islands, the best are the excursions offered by the Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui.
Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 to save whales from extinction.
Each whale eco-tour is supervised by whale experts who will describe the behavior of the whales in detail and help you spot them on your sail. On most ships you will also be able to hear the actual sounds of whales in the surrounding ocean.