Humpback Whales are an endangered species that were plentiful before the advent of commercial whaling in the late 19th/ early 20th century. Conserving and replenishing their numbers has been accomplished mainly due in the present to the passage and enforcement of The Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal’s Protections Act, although there is more that needs to be done to increase their numbers because of the depletion that occurred in the past.
It is estimated that the majority of the humpback population in the North Pacific Ocean were thought to have made Hawaii, Western Mexico, and the southern Japanese islands their traditional breeding ground and temporary home during the winter months due to various factors. Hawaii was and is currently unique due to the fact that it is the only place in the United States that the humpbacks have made their home during the winter months.
Due to Hawaii’s isolated location, clear waters, and lack of natural predators the humpback whales can only be found here during this time of year where they mate, give birth, and rear their young. Winter is the only time of year when these activities happen. While you are watching the whales from the shore or boat you might hear the humpbacks unique whale song if you listen closely enough. Whales have a unique language and dialect depending on species, where they are located, or for specific purposes. An example would be their whale song for feeding or mating. Each song is used for different purposes and is currently being studied by scientists around the globe so they can understand more of the Whale’s way of life.
Humpback whales are considered one of the more vocal whale species. The male humpback for example will sing in the breeding grounds while they will both sing a different song in the feeding grounds. The whale sounds change from year to year and within different groups. This is like different dialects in languages. While scientists are currently studying the vocal intonations or voices of the whales they are currently just scratching the surface of what the whales are saying while studying these gentle giants of the water.
The whales spend roughly around 90% of the time underwater and can be seen on the surface the other 10% of their lives. While the whales are above the water you can see them doing a number of different activities including blowing their blowhole when they come up to breathe, spy hop, head lunge, and my personal favorite the tail slap to name a few. Although what we see on the surface is only a sliver of what they do in their lives.
In addition to the amazing physical displays of these gentle giants and the whale song of these animals, there are numerous opportunities to capture some of the magic of these creatures either through photography, film or simply viewing them from afar. If you have a decent camera and a steady hand and don’t potentially mind getting wet, you can easily capture the magic of these gentle giants for yourself or your family who couldn’t make the trip.
In regards to conservation, Hawaii has done an amazing job educating and helping its local and tourist population understand the value of making sure these gentle giants of the sea are not marched toward extinction. The Hawaiian government has set aside an area to preserve and increase the humpback whale population through various conservation processes. This has been done mainly through The Humpback Whale National Whale Sanctuary which was created by Congress in 1992, as well as local initiatives. The Sanctuary was created for the express purpose of protecting the humpback whale and its habitat stretching from the shoreline all the way out to 600ft down in the areas surrounding Maui, Penguin Bay, and Kauai. In addition to those main areas, the North and South shores of Oahu and the northern Kona and Kohala Coast of the Big Island were included in the sanctuary.
If you are interested in photographing these incredible creatures join Backcountry Journeys for our Big Island of Hawaii photography tour. This trip includes a private boat charter along the Kohala Coast designed specifically for whale photography!