Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“Happy, Happy Hump Day in Hilo”

That phrase perfectly describes the waters around the Big Island this time of year thanks to the humpback whale. Here is an incredible picture caught by my wife Devany off our lanai of two whales breaching at the same time (and no it wasn’t “photo shopped”).

The island chain insulates the water, warming it up to the perfect temperature for whales to give birth and raise their calves. And unlike Alaskan waters, Hawaii's waters are mostly predator-free.

During their stay in Hawaii, they do not feed, but rely upon energy stored in their blubber. Instead of feeding, the whales devote most of their time to mating and bearing their calves.

Another interesting behavior exhibited by the humpbacks during their stay in the islands is singing. The "songs" of humpbacks are made up of complex vocal patterns. All whales within a given area and season seem to use the same songs. However, the songs appear to change from one breeding season to the next. Scientists believe that only male humpbacks sing. While the purpose of the songs is not known, many scientists think that males sing to attract mates, or to communicate among other males of the pod.

How humpbacks create these sounds is unknown since they do not have functional vocal cords. Last week my wife was kept awake at night by the sounds of the whales that sounded like haunting cries and others that had a trumpeting sound.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created by Congress in 1992 to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawai`i. The sanctuary, which lies within the shallow (less than 600 feet), warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands, constitutes one of the world's most important humpback whale habitats.

Through education, outreach, research and resource protection activities, the sanctuary strives to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawai`i. On January 30th and again on the last Saturday in February and in March, dozens of volunteers will fan out to an estimated 60 sites along the shores of O'ahu, Hawai'i and Kaua'i for the sanctuary's annual whale count. The count provides key population and distribution information on humpback whales around the Hawaiian Islands.

A main reason the humpbacks winter in Hawai'i is to give birth to their young, which like any youngsters are less adept than their parents at staying out of harm's way. David Mattila, the sanctuary's science and rescue coordinator, advises boaters to think of Hawai'i waters in the winter as analogous to a school zone when class lets out. "Drive carefully. It's a nursery." <>

By the way, does anyone still call Wednesday, “Happy, happy hump day?”


  1. Beautiful! I'd love to see that view...we're still buried in snow! :)

  2. That is the most wonderful shot of the whales! And your posting is very informative, Wes. Thanks.


Mahalo for leaving a comment!~WesIsland