This time of year most of us focus our thoughts around the upcoming holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, but there is another “season” to celebrate in Hawaii and that is the return of our annual visitors, the Humpback Whales! Just as our island weather and golden beaches attract many visitors from around the world, the warm, shallow waters around our islands are a preferred destination each year for two thirds of the Pacific Humpback Whale population. Native Hawaiians have always had a close connection to the ocean and its wildlife, and the Kohola (humpback whale) is greatly respected. In fact, some Hawaiian families consider it an amakua, or family guardian. These “gentle giants” were once 15-20,000 in number, but during whaling days the number declined to an estimated 1,000 before measures were taken to protect them! Today the waters around our islands are designated as a Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and approximately 5-10,000 whales return each year, from their feedings grounds near Alaska, to winter here. From early November until May they play, mate, and have their young here.
Needless to say, they are a sight to behold and whale watching is a popular activity during these months! There are restrictions to the proximity and a watercraft cannot proceed more than 100 yards from a whale, but you will be surprised to see how close that can feel when a 45 ton humpback breaches (lunges out of the sea) in an aerobatic display! Many times a boat will stop its engines and these friendly creatures will actually come near the boat, as if to visit and say hello! Perhaps the most touching sight is when you chance to see a mother keeping a watchful eye over her playful calf as it leaps, over and over, from the water, in what can only be interpreted as exuberant joy!
We mentioned that they also come here to mate and while they are here (and nowhere else) they “sing”! Scientists theorize that it is in connection with the mating, since only the males sing. Regardless of why they do it, you are in for a really special treat when the whale watching boat lowers a microphone into the water and you actually hear their songs. Even tho they have no vocal chords, the songs of these beautiful creatures resonate for miles underwater, and there is a rhythm and a consistency to the “melody” they sing! If you are visiting Oahu during these winter months, don’t miss an opportunity to celebrate the “season of the whales” and enjoy these magnificent animals close up!