PWF Spots its First Whale of the Season

October 20, 2016, 2:50 PM HST · Updated October 20, 3:20 PM
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Ellen Raimo captured this image of breaching humpback swimming in Maui waters on March 3, 2016. She called it the best day of the season for whale photography with lots of activity reported on the water that day. Courtesy photo.

Ellen Raimo captured this image of breaching humpback swimming in Maui waters on March 3, 2016. She called it the best day of the season for whale photography with lots of activity reported on the water that day. Courtesy photo.

Pacific Whale Foundation spotted their first whale of the season today, Oct. 20, 2016, off the coast of Lahaina in West Maui.

Captain Dave aboard Ocean Discovery confirmed the sighting of a sub adult humpback whale at 8:20 a.m.and verified its location after being alerted to the possible sighting by crew aboard Queen’s Treasure who saw the whale heading SSW approximately 3.7 miles off Lahaina.

This is the first confirmed Pacific Whale Foundation sighting this year, a few days earlier than last year’s first sighting on Oct. 24, 2015.

Earlier this year, we received a report of an untimely appearance of a humpback whale spotted in Maui waters off the coast of Lahaina on Aug. 25, 2016, well ahead of the traditional whale season in Hawaiian waters.

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At the time, Ed Lyman, NOAA’s Large Whale Entanglement Response Coordinator and Resource Protection Specialist with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said it’s unclear if the August sighting was an early or late sighting but said, “It’s pretty darn rare.  We don’t know if this represents the first sighting of the year.  I mean, I would lean against that in some ways considering the condition of the animal, it’s just as likely, if not more likely that this whale lingered from the last whale season, that it (may have) hung around, and it just happened to be spotted finally,” said Lyman.

The Superintendent with the HIHWNMS, noted that first sightings of humpback whales are typically in September or October, and that the whales are generally in Hawaiʻi from November through May.

“The whales do not arrive en masse, but in an age class parade,” said PWF Founder and Executive Director, Greg Kaufman. “This first sighting is the vanguard of humpbacks that will arrive in increasing numbers from now until they peak in February and March, when all the calves have been born.”

Kaufman also noted, “It is fitting that the whale was spotted in ʻAuʻau Channel waters given that the highest density of whales in Hawaiʻi are found in between Maui and NW Molokaʻi, off an area known as Penguin Banks.”

At least 12,000 humpback whales are believed to migrate to Hawaiʻi each winter, with their rate increasing at 7% per year. They travel from their northern summer feeding area that extends from Northern California to the Bering Sea, arriving in Hawaiʻi to mate, give birth and care for their young calves.

Humpback whales are protected by federal and state regulations which prohibit vessels and other water-users from approaching humpback whales within 100 yards. More information on responsible whale watching is available through Pacific Whale Foundation’s Be Whale Aware guidelines.

Pacific Whale Foundation offers whalewatching ecotours from both Lahaina and Māʻalaea starting on Nov. 7 through PacWhale Eco-Adventures.

The official season kick-off celebration, Welcome Home the Whales, will take place on Saturday, Nov. 26, featuring morning whale watch tours led by the PWF research team. Other Welcome Home the Whales activities include special offers at PWF Ocean Stores in Lahaina and Māʻalaea, plus live music by Marty Dread at the Māʻalaea Harbor Shops. PacWhale Eco-Adventures offers snorkel trips and evening cruises year-round, and today’s humpback whale sighting was aboard a Lānaʻi Snorkel & Dolphin Watch.

Dates of past first-whale sightings by the Pacific Whale Foundation are as follows:

Oct. 24, 2015
Oct. 14, 2014
Oct. 5, 2013
Oct. 15, 2012
Oct. 6, 2011
Oct. 20, 2010
Oct. 20, 2009
Oct. 8, 2008
Oct. 7, 2007
Oct. 11, 2006
Nov. 11, 2005
Oct. 23, 2004
Oct. 21, 2003
Nov. 3, 2002
Oct. 31, 2001
Sept. 16, 2000
Sept. 30, 1999
Oct. 13, 1998

Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization established on Maui in 1980 to protect whales and oceans through science and advocacy.

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