One of the highlights of our stay on the Hawaiian island of Maui was our encounters with the majestic Humpback Whales that visit these shores between November and May each year. The bays around Maui provide the sheltered and shallow water needed for Humpbacks to be able to birth their young and provide a safe place whilst the cubs build up their strength and skills.
There are many other places that you can watch Whales, but not many where the Humpback can be seen. Only 30 years ago the Humpbacks were on the brink of extinction, but conservation efforts have proved successful and it’s numbers are now steady and growing to a point that they will be taken off the endangered list.
I took a sunrise trip with Pacific Whale Foundation to see these beautiful creatures offshore. The trip was 2 hours long and was well hosted by the crew and naturalists on board. We were well educated on Whale behaviour, habitat and migrating habits.
Whilst we didn’t have Whales hugging the sides of our boat, we did get reasonably close to these gentle giants, but it is very hard to capture them. Later in the day we stopped by the main viewing point in Maui to watch the Whales from land and again were not disappointed. Here are a couple of photos, which whilst not super sharp (as they were taken a long way off) do show how visible the Whales were even from land.
What we learnt about these gentle giants was as follows: They migrate from Alaska which is their main feeding ground to warmer shores during the winter months. 55% of the population come down to Hawaii, the other 45% are split equally in the migration to Japan or Mexico. The migration is for mating and birthing purposes. The gestation period is one year, so those that are lucky this year will be returning to give birth next year. They need relatively shallow waters for birthing (the Maui waters are less than 300ft), they are warm as the young take a few months to build up their blubber layers. They also need to be free of predators, of which for the young would be the Killer Whales. So there are only three places on the planet that fit the bill. Contrary to what most of us would believe, they are not looking for an abundance of food and in fact there is very little that they can eat whilst in these warmer shores, so lose up to a third of their body weight whilst taking their winter vacation. When they do return to Alaska, the journey will take them between 4 and 6 weeks to complete. I did hear some of the mesmerising Whale Song whilst we were out on the boat. It is only the males that make the sounds and there is no clear theory for why they do, but is mostly likely to be about social cohesion of the group rather than for attracting females. It certainly felt a privilege for us to be able to get relatively close to these majestic creatures and see them in action.