The first humpback whale of the season was spotted two miles off Ukumehame yesterday (Wednesday, October 20, 2010). The whale was a lone young adult and was spotted by Captain Chris Howard aboard the Alii Nui vessel at around 11:15 a.m.
Records dating back to 1998, show that 9 of the 13 first reported sightings took place in October; the others were in late September or early November. Last year, the first sighting was also on October 20th.
The humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii are part of the North Pacific humpback whale population. During the summer, Hawaii’s whales feed in nearshore waters along the west coast of North America near Alaska. Seasonal cues may trigger their winter migration to warm water breeding areas off Maui. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 whales are believed to swim to Hawaii each year, a distance of about 2,500 to 3,000 miles.
Pacific Whale Foundation’s vessel Ocean Quest was also able to observe the whale again at 12:45 p.m. at the same location. The whale was still milling at the surface, and not moving in any particular direction. Passenger Gary Erbeck from San Diego, CA was able to photograph the whale.
Greg Kaufman, Founder and Chief Scientist at Pacific Whale Foundation described the whale as a subadult saying, “Subadults are whales that have not yet reached adulthood and sexual maturity; they appear first, along with mothers and their yearling calves. Mature males and females arrive later, followed by pregnant females.”
While in Hawaii, the whales mate and give birth. Hawaii is the nation’s primary mating and calving grounds for the endangered humpback whale and is home to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
The whales don’t arrive at once and many don’t spend the entire time here; instead they flow in and out of Hawaii’s waters throughout the winter. The largest numbers of whale sightings occur during February and March. A recent scientific paper published by Pacific Whale Foundation showed that a male humpback whale was sighted in both Hawaii and Mexico during the same winter season.
The population of North Pacific humpback whales is thought to be increasing at a rate of 5% to 7% each year. Humpback whales are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
(Posted by Wendy Osher; supporting information courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation)
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