Maui Articles

Maui’s Humpback Whales

Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team has been studying humpback whales in Hawaii, Australia, Ecuador, Alaska, Tonga and other parts of the Pacific for over 33 years. Early pioneers in whale research, Pacific Whale Foundation’s scientists helped demonstrate that vast amounts of scientific knowledge about whales could be gathered non-invasively, through careful observation and data collection in the field.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s award-winning whalewatching tours are based on these decades of whale research. A portion of every ticket sold goes directly to support Pacific Whale Foundation’s ongoing whale research. In addition, all profits from the whalewatches support Pacific Whale Foundation’s public education, conservation, and research efforts to protect whales. By choosing Pacific Whale Foundation eco-cruises, you are helping make a difference to protect our oceans and marine wildlife.
Q. When are the whales here?
The first whales of the season are typically sighted off Maui in September or October. The whales do not arrive all at once. Their numbers increase gradually as winter approaches, with a peak around February- March. Pacific Whale Foundation guarantees whale sightings on its whalewatches from November 4 through May 15.

Q. Where do Maui’s whales go in summer?
Hawaii’s humpback whales are part of the North Pacific population of humpback whales, estimated at approximately 21,000 individuals. In summer, Hawaii’s whales feed in an area that extends from Northern California to the Bering Sea, where there is a bounty of small schooling fishes and planktonic organisms. During the summer feeding season, the whales consume as much as a ton of food per day.

Q. Why do the whales come to Hawaii?
About 60% of the North Pacific population migrates to Hawaii. The area off the coast of Maui, bordered by the islands of Kaho’olawe, Lana’i and Molokai, hosts the largest density of whales in the state. While in Hawaii, the whales focus on reproduction, namely mating, giving birth, and nurturing their young calves.Mauis-Humpback-Whales

Q. Why do the whales choose Hawaii for this purpose?
Many humpback whales bear scars that appear to be the result of attacks by orca or killer whales. Orcas are found in large numbers in cool water areas, but only occasionally in Hawaii and other warm water areas where humpback whales breed. It is theorized that the humpbacks migrate to Hawaii to give birth in warm, relatively shallow water areas, where their newborns are safer from the predators. Maybe we could add something about the depth where most of the whales are found, e.g. < 600 ft deep.

Q. Do the whales sleep?
Unlike humans, whales are conscious breathers, meaning that they think about every breath they take even during sleep. Whale sleep is complex and still being studied. Whales do not appear to have REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is characteristic of humans (the stage in which most of our dreaming occurs). Not all whales rest the same way. Some do so at the surface, some are constantly swimming, and some even rest far below the water surface. Resting whales take slow breaths that are less frequent than when they are active. When at the surface, resting whales are relatively motionless, a behavior referred to as “logging,” because they look like giant logs floating on the water.