If you happen to be in Hawaii during the months of December to April, you will find the seas around you resounding with joyous music―a symphony of squeaking, chirping, clicking, singing, blowing and splashing. These sounds are made by whales, and it is at long last that this unique underwater orchestra is being heard again. In fact, this whale choir is achieving levels that have not been recorded since the whalers of the 19th century had almost exterminated this gentle leviathan into near oblivion.
The return of the great whales in the eastern part of the North Pacific, in fact, is turning out to be one of the best environmental success stories. And this phenomenon is most evident all along the coast from Alaska to Baja, in California, and in Hawaii . Although the exact numbers of whales swimming in these waters is not known yet, but there are enough of them to spawn a new industry based on whales―whale watching tours.
Whale watching, according to many environmentalists, has been one of the most important factors over the years of being a source of education to the public about the predicament of whales. They go on to say that the more the general public learns about whales, and the habitat they live in, the more beneficial it will be for our environment.
The species of whales that migrate to Hawaii, coming all the way from Alaska, along the coast of central California, is the Pacific humpback whale. Their journey, which is a distance of 3,500 miles from their summer home, takes about 1-2 months, depending on the speed they swim. Usually, their swimming speed is about 3-9 mph, however, when they encounter danger, it can increase to even 15-16 mph. The whales form loose and large groups while traveling. The associations they form along the way do not last more than a few days. But one exception is the strong bond that mothers and calves have between each other which lasts for a long time. The warm waters of tropical Hawaii provide ideal conditions for breeding for the humpback. Many of the whales that come here to breed calve while in Hawaii.
The Pacific humpback is classified as a baleen whale, which means that instead of teeth they have baleen plates, which they use to filter their food from water. At 35-52 feet in length, they are the fifth-largest species of whales. To give you a slight perspective of size, each foot of the Pacific humpback weighs about a ton. The female humpback is slightly larger in size than the male. The humpback has a massive heart, weighing around 430 pounds. The humback's scientific name is Megaptera Novaeangliae, which it got in 1781 from Borowski, a German naturalist. The meaning of the name is 'Big-Winged New Englander'. 'Big Winged', referring to its huge fins and tail, and 'New Englander' because it was once seen on New England's coast.
The humpback is one of the most unique mammals because of the special talents it has. One of them is the ability to sing. They sing a large variety of complex, beautiful, and long songs. The song of the humpback whale is still a mystery. Scientists still have not figured out why these whales sing, and what the meaning of their song is. During the breeding period, the male sings lengthy songs, which is thought to be related to mating, although it is not yet proven that it is used as a device to attract females. Although the females make sounds too, it is only the male that produces organized and lengthy songs, which can be even 20 minutes long and can be heard 20 miles away. One of the intriguing peculiarities is that all the males in a group sing in the same way, producing the same sounds and behavior patterns. And in time, when the patterns of the song change, every male in the group changes to the new song pattern. Hence, although the song may change, all the males in a group sing the same song always.
Whale watching has grown in popularity as a winter activity in Hawaii. While the humpback's population in the world ranges from 10,000-15,000, about 1,000 of these come to Hawaii's tropical waters each year. They stay at their warm breeding home until the end of April, when they make their long journey back to Alaska.
Watching whales in the wild can be a soul-stirring experience, which is why protecting the whale has been one of the most emotional and popular wildlife issues for over a decade. Perhaps it is because whales are mammals, like us-they give birth to and nurse their young, they breathe air, their body temperature is 98 degrees. Or, perhaps it is because of their mammoth size. Or, maybe because they display unique characteristics, like their singing ability, which could be a form of communication. Whatever may be the reason, one of the best ways to get up close to these magnificent creatures is by taking a whale watching cruise in Hawaii.
One of the best ways to spot whales, whether from out at sea or from land, is to scan your eyes on the horizon and catch the glimpse of a misty 'blow', which is the phenomenon of the whale exhaling air forcefully through its blowhole, or nostrils, on top of its head, when it comes up for air. Or perhaps you can spot a fluke print, which is a sort of a temporary footprint diving whales leave behind on the surface by the downward sweep of their fluke, or huge tail fins.
Whales are found in the waters of all the islands of Hawaii, where there are many tour operators who organize whale watching tours on large and small boats, both during the day and at sunset. Many of these tour operators guarantee sightings of whales, and in case you do not get to see any on a trip out, you will get another trip free. Generally, these whale watching cruises include a snack, drink, and a guide who will give information about the whales. Some tour operators even have hydrophones on board with which you can listen to the whales communicating with each other.
Another interesting way to learn about and see the humpback whale is to submerge yourself into their underwater habitat via a submarine. In Hawaii, you can get a submarine provider, who provides underwater whale watching tours on the islands of Maui, Oahu, as well as the Big Island of Hawaii.