Humpback whales (kohola) are our favorite "winter birds" a.k.a. annual visitors to Maui. Officially, they are here from December 15 - April 15; however, since none of the whales have iPhones, they sometimes show up as early as October. The best time to come see these amazing creatures is the end of January through the beginning of March.
|The humpback whales "summer" in Alaska and about 10,000 whales follow the same migration patterns to Hawaii every year. The whales travel over 3,500 miles in a 4-6-week time frame. Females come to give birth and to raise their calves in the relative predator free, warm waters of Hawaii, or to breed (which is why the males come). The gestational period for a humpback whale is 11-12 months, so it is safe to say the calves born one summer were the calves bred the previous summer. The calves are roughly 2,000 pounds at birth and gain about 100 pounds a day from their mother`s milk, which is 50% fat. Though many babies have been born in the waters off of Maui, there has never been a recorded live birth.
(Photo credit: NOAA)
|One of the more phenomenal things to experience during whale season is hearing the male humpbacks sing. Each whale has his own song and wherever he left off singing before he starts his journey back to Alaska, is where he`ll pick up singing once he is back in Hawaiian waters. Scientists believe the songs are to attract females. If you are lucky, can hold your breath for 30 seconds, and are snorkeling in West Maui (Kapalua Bay is a great spot for this), you can hear the songs underwater. The songs can travel up to 12 miles underwater, but sound so much closer, almost as if you look over your shoulder a whale will be right there. It is an otherworldly sound, beautiful and mournful all at the same time.
How to Spot a Whale
|If you are in Maui during whale season, a whale watch is a must-do activity. Though you can spot whales from your lanai, or even from the beach, being out on the water in their environment is nothing short of amazing. Most, if not all, of the whale watch tours guarantee whale encounters during whale season.
Morning seems to be the best time to see whale activity. Start by scanning the ocean for any type of break in the water. This depends on the ocean that day as it will obviously be easier to see breaks on a calm, clear day. A great indicator of whales is a cluster of boats, so watch for that as well. The most common indication that there are whales is a spout. During whale season, there isn`t a day that goes by that you don`t at least see one spout, so keep your eyes peeled! The spout or blow, hence the saying, "thar she blows," comes from whales exhaling on the surface. Once a blow has been spotted, keep watching in the general area, whales can dive for up to 10 minutes, but are mammals and have to breathe air, so they will eventually return to the surface.
If a big splash is seen, that usually indicates a breach, the "piece de resistance" of whale spotting. Keep watching, the humpbacks whales often breach several times in a row. Other behaviors that can be seen from land are tail and/or peck slaps and spy hopping (just the humpback head comes out of the water).