Maui Whale Watch Guide – Why Humpbacks Breach

When you join us on a whale watch tour on Maui, breaching is one of the common actions you’re likely to see. Breaching is when a whale throws its entire body out of the water. It’s an awesome to sight to witness, to be sure. But why do humpback whales breach?

Until recently, most whale experts believed there wasn’t one reason. It’s kind of like asking, why do humans run? We run for play, exercise, to escape danger, etc. Among the reasons scientists believed whales breached were for communication, a way to warn others of impending danger, as a way to stun prey, and as a sort of mating ritual competition between males.

However, in November, 2016, an article titled “Evidence for the functions of surface-active behaviors in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)” was published in the Marine Mammal Science journal. The authors of the study concluded, with some certainty, the main reason for breaching (and tail/pectoral slapping) is communication.

Simply put in human terms, an acoustic sound like a drum travels further than the voice, which is why cultures once beat on drums to communicate from village to village. So while whales can sing beautifully, in order to contact other whales further away, they need to beat on the water to get the message out.

As for the other reasons whales breach, while those listed above may be partially true, it never fully made sense to scientists why whales breached in Hawaii. While the humpbacks do mate here, they don’t eat. That’s right, they fast the entire time they’re in Hawaii. They also don’t have any natural predators here. So breaching to stun their prey or warn of danger seems dubious, at best. Especially when you consider how much energy a whale expends to throw 30 tons of body out of the water while they are fasting.

So next time you see a humpback whale leaping out of the ocean or slapping its fins, it isn’t just for show. They’re probably communicating with other whales miles away.

Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

Maui Whale Watch Guide – Humpback Migration

Every winter, the thousands of  humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii are a source of wonder and interest among both island visitors and residents. For those who keep an eye on the blue horizon, the whales can put on quite a show with their acrobatic antics. Their great size and charismatic behavior are just a couple of reasons why our Maui whale watch tours are so popular. Although there are still some mysteries remaining as to the lives they lead below the waves, scientists have discovered many fascinating things about our humpback neighbors.

Humpbacks are found throughout the world’s oceans, although their numbers dipped dangerously low as a result of the whaling that started in the 1800’s. It’s estimated that as few as 1,000 were left in 1965. Now, there are an estimated 23,000 north pacific humpbacks alone. Of this number, about 60%, or 12,000 – 14,000, migrate to Hawaii.

An interesting fact about the north pacific humpbacks are the three somewhat distinct populations they form. The eastern stock migrate between Northern California in summer and Mexico in winter. The western stock summers in the Aleutian Islands and moves on to the islands south of Japan in winter. The central stock can be found here in Hawaii in the winter after spending their summers in southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska. The whales aren’t too strict about their migrations though, as some mixing on the breeding grounds has been observed in each of the three groups, which probably goes a long way to keeping the gene pool nice and diverse.

Hawaii’s waters provide such an important habitat for these whales that Congress designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, where the whales would be protected as an endangered species by both federal and state law. Luckily for us, one of the two most popular places for whales to congregate is in the waters of Maui County, meaning the area between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kaho’olawe. The other popular spot for the whales is to the southwest of Molokai. As their numbers continue to strengthen, they have made progress spreading out toward the other Hawaiian islands.

Our whales from Alaska leave their feeding grounds in the fall and swim almost non-stop until reaching their breeding grounds in Hawaii, which can take between 6-8 weeks. At about 3,000 miles each way, it’s one of the longest mammal migrations, which is why it takes them so long despite their epic size.

Marine scientists have made some interesting discoveries about Hawaii’s arriving whales. Namely, who arrives when. Nursing mothers arrive around mid-November, generally being the first on the scene. The next to arrive are juveniles and newly weaned yearlings, followed by a surge of adult males and females. The last to arrive are pregnant females, who feed in Alaska as long as possible before beginning their migration.

If you’d like to observe these awe-inspiring giants in their natural habitat, you can book your tour at our Maui whale watch tour page. If you need our assistance, you’ll find our contact information at the bottom of the page. Mahalo!

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

A Visual Guide To Common Humpback Whale Behavior

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a 30-ton whale throwing itself out of the ocean like a spinner dolphin on one of our whale watches. Luckily for you, whales have more than just one trick up their fins! Here is a visual guide to seven common humpback whale actions you may see here in Hawaii.

Breach
When you head out on a whale watch, this is the action you most want to see. A breach occurs when a humpback launches itself fully out of the ocean. Here is an explanation for why humpback whales breach.

Tail Slap
We love the tail slap, also known as lobtailing. A tail slap is, literally, when the humpback slaps the water with its tail in a straight up and down motion. It seems easy enough, but to do it, the whale needs to lift its rear out of the water in order to create the force needed to slap its tail down. This is different than the tail throw…

Tail Throw
Also known as a peduncle throw, you don’t often see these on Maui, but when you do, they’re spectacular. A tail throw occurs when a whale turns to its side and violently lifts its tail out of the water and slaps it down in a sideways action. Since it’s believed tail throws primarily occur during mating, this action is very rare here in Hawaii.

Pec Slap
A pec slap occurs when a whale raises its pectoral fins (side fins) vertically, then slaps it down into the water. We like to think of pec slaps as a whale’s way of waving “hello.” We would be wrong, but it’s fun to dream!

Chin Slap
Nobody likes to be slapped in the face, but humpbacks do enjoy raising their heads out of the water, then slapping them down. It takes a great amount of strength to raise the upper half of their bodies out of the water and slap them down.

Spyhopping
Humpbacks do this to look out over the horizon. Kind of like gophers peeking their heads out of their holes, humpbacks lift their heads out of the water and look around. If you see a humpback doing this, it’s probably looking right back at you!

Blowing
“Thar she blows!” The famous pirate cry is the most recognizable and common action you’ll see on a Maui whale watch. What you may not know, however, is that humpbacks do not blow water out of their blowholes. Instead, they are blowing out the hot air and mucus that collects in their lungs. When this warm mixture hits the cooler outside air the condensation it creates looks like a spigot of water.

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well, you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

Whale Watching on Maui Q & A

When is whale watching season on Maui?
Unofficially, whale watching season runs from December 1 – April 30. But the whales came early this year and we’re already running Whale Watch tours!

Where is the best place to see the whales?
Well, we may be a teeny bit biased, but the best place to see the whales is from one of our whale tour boats. We will get you as close to the whales as is safely possible – safe for the whales and you, that is, on the largest and most stable boats in Maui.

What types of whales come through Hawaii?
North Pacific Humpback Whales

What do they look like?
They are primarily grey, with some areas of white. Oh, and they’re big. BIG. The North Pacific Humpbacks are the fifth largest whale species on the planet and can grow to 60-feet long and weigh between 25 – 40 tons.

Why do they come to Hawaii?
Good question. They come to mate, give birth and nurture their calves. Hawaii is the only state in the union where they will mate. It’s believed the humpbacks are drawn to Hawaii for its warm waters, underwater visibility, varying ocean depths and lack of natural predators.

How far do they travel?
They swim, pretty much non-stop, about 3,500 miles from Alaska. The journey generally takes 4-to-6 weeks.

Do they arrive in any particular order?
They do! Normally the first to arrive are the mother whales who are nursing their calves. Next up is the juveniles, then the adult males, followed by adult females. The last to arrive are the pregnant females. The pregnant whales bring up the rear because they feed and nourish themselves until the very last minute up in Alaska.

Once they get to Hawaii, where do they go?
They basically go to two different areas. A four-island cluster comprised of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kaho’olawe make up the first area. The other area, called the Penguin Band, is a section of shallow water about 25 miles southwest of Molokai. That said, whales have been spotted by residents and visitors on the Big Island, Oahu and Kauai.

How many whales are there?
In 1993, there were an estimated 6,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Of those, about 4,000 came through Hawai’i. Since the signing of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which banned commercial whaling, that number has increased. Scientists estimate there are now roughly 23,000 north pacific humpback whales, with about 12,000 – 14,000 of those coming through Hawaii each year.

How long do Northern Pacific Humpback Whales live?
They live about 50 years, but there have been accounts of some living much longer.

What do they eat?
They survive mainly on small fish, plankton and tiny crustaceans. What’s interesting is they never eat in Hawaii’s waters. They spend all summer eating in Alaska, then store up the food as blubber, which they then use to fuel their winter trips to Hawaii.

How long can the whales stay underwater?
While adults can stay underwater for up to 45 minutes, they tend to come up for air every 10-15 minutes. The calves come up about every 5 minutes.

Why do they jump out of the water?
Commonly called breaching, a study published in January, 2017 showed that humpbacks are more likely to breach when they are far apart (2.5 miles or more,) while tail or fin slapping occurs more frequently when they are together. This suggests that the humpbacks breach for long-range communication versus simply water slaps when they are near other whales.

Is there a Hawaiian name for humpback whales?
Yes, the Hawaiian name is kohola

I want to see whales every day I’m on Maui! Where’s the best place to see them from shore?
Honestly, you should be able to spot them from pretty much every beach on the south (Kihei/Wailea) and west (Lahaina/Ka’anapali) shores. You can also see them on the north shore (Paia/Ho’okipa). The best place, unfortunately, is probably on Highway 30 connecting Ma’alaea and Lahaina. If you see one while driving, remain calm and try not to accelerate into the driver in front you who just slowed to take a better look!

To book a whale watch tour with us, go here. If the boat goes out and no whales are seen, you will receive complimentary tickets for another trip.

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

Welcome Back The Whales!

After spending the summer consuming roughly 5,000 pounds of food in Alaska, the humpback whales are completing their arduous 3,000 mile journey to Hawaii. How lucky we are!

Though we witness these 30-ton beauties every winter, the sight of a humpback whale breaching is ALWAYS exciting. Even folks who have lived here for 80 years still get a thrill from the whales. We love the whales and we never take them for granted.

Recent reports say the number of humpback whales arriving in Hawaii are shrinking and that’s a definite concern. Last year, just 529 whales were counted, down from 984 in 2016. But, the total number of whales that arrive in Hawaii, according to NOAA are still around 10,000, which means the whales are still in abundance in Maui’s waters. The discrepancy in the count numbers is due to that fact that most whales don’t venture into the waters near populated locales and the whale counts cited were taken by people standing on the shore.

To help celebrate the return of the whales to Hawaii, here are five interesting facts about the humpback whales’ migration from Alaska to Hawaii that you can share with friends and family…

  1. The humpback whales that come to Hawaii are from the North Pacific humpback whale family. There are three distinct groups of these humpbacks: the eastern stock from Northern California travel back-and-forth to Mexico, the western stock go between the Aleutian Islands and Japan, and the central stock migrate from Alaska to Hawaii. The 3,000 journey from Alaska to Hawaii is one of the longest mammal migrations in the world.
  2. Hawaii’s waters provide such an important habitat for these whales that Congress designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, where the whales would be protected as an endangered species by both federal and state law.
  3. One of the most popular places for whales to congregate is in the waters of Maui County, meaning the area between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kaho’olawe. It’s no mistake that this is exact area we take our passengers on our whale watches!
  4. Marine scientists have made an interesting discovery about the order of the whales’ arrival in Hawaii. Nursing mothers generally arrive first in early-to-mid November. The next to arrive are juveniles and newly weaned yearlings, followed by a surge of adult males and females. The last to arrive are pregnant females, who feed in Alaska as long as possible before beginning their migration.
  5. The whales do NOT feed while in Hawaii. They store up enough food in Alaska prior to their journey to last until they return to Alaska in the spring.

To book a whale watch adventure with Hawaii Ocean Project with guaranteed whale sightings**, head on over to our Whale Watch page.

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the Island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promocode VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

 

** If no whales are spotted on your adventure, you will receive a voucher to book another whale watch adventure.

10 Fun Facts About Jellyfish

There are two schools of thought when it comes to jellyfish. When seen in an aquarium, like the fabulous Maui Ocean Center, they are stunningly beautiful. Watching them glow and glide is a sight to behold. On the other hand, when you’re wading waist deep in the ocean and spot a jellyfish, your first thought is usually to high tail it out of the water like you’ve just seen Jaws. It’s true the sting of some jellyfish can be nasty. Generally, though, Maui’s waters are pretty clear of the largest stinging jellies. On the Hawaii Ocean Project Lanai Snorkel and Dolphin Tour, we avoid snorkel locations with stinging jellyfish. Here are 10 fun facts about jellyfish…

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Fish Guide for Snorkeling Maui

Book a Lanai Snorkel and Dolphin tour with Hawaii Ocean Project and save $10 by following this special link.

Achilles Tang
These blackfish have a distinctive orange patch near the tail and some seriously beautiful orange, white, and blue stripes that look like they were painted on. Growing to 10 inches long, the Achilles Tang can be found in surge zones, along rocky shores and coral reefs. While you should always try to keep a respectful distance from fish while snorkeling, it’s especially true of the Achilles Tang, as their tails consist of sharp spines that can cause deep wounds.

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Fishing on Maui: HOP to it

Some people come to Maui for the beach, others for the hiking, most for relaxation. But if you’re coming to Maui and want to try your hand at fishing, there are some things you need to know. In this article, we’ll talk about regulations, where you might want to fish and finally, what you may be catching. Please note, this article is by no means comprehensive. Rather, it’s a place for you to begin your research. Let’s dive in…

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10 Facts about Sharks in Hawaii

When you visit Hawaii, you’re probably going to be spending a lot of time in the water. Visitors often ask about sharks, as in “should I be worried about them?” The fact is, many more people run into personal health-related issues while in the ocean (shortness of breath, increased heart rate) than shark-related issues. That’s not to say you should ignore the dangers of sharks. Most sharks around Hawaii’s shores are safe, but sharks are wild creatures and like all animals in nature, must be respected. Here are 10 facts about the sharks in Hawaii.

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