Hawai‘i Humpback Whale Season Underway

December 18, 2017, 9:46 AM HST · Updated December 18, 9:46 AM

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. File photo courtesy Ellen Raimo.

NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary reminds the public that Hawaiʻi’s humpback whale season is currently underway.

Although the number may vary from year to year, scientists estimate that as many as 12,000 humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Alaska to breed, calve and nurse their young in Hawaiʻi’s warm waters.

While some whales have already arrived, the majority will be in Hawaiʻi between January and March.

Hawaiʻi’s iconic humpback whales are protected by state and federal agencies. Approaching humpback whales when on or in the water within 100 yards or within 1,000 feet by air is illegal.


“Collisions between whales and vessels occur annually, presenting serious risks to boaters as well as the whales,” said Edward Lyman, large whale entanglement response coordinator for the sanctuary. “Whale calves are particularly vulnerable because they are difficult to see and surface more often.”

Humpbacks can also get entangled in fishing gear, which can result in starvation, physical trauma and infections, and may contribute to vessel strikes since the animals are less mobile.

The Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network, a community-based effort led by the sanctuary, supports large whale response efforts statewide. The network involves many state and federal agencies, including Hawaiʻi’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office and the US Coast Guard, as well as private non-governmental organizations, fishermen, researchers and other individuals.

If you see an injured or entangled marine mammal, keep a safe and legal distance and call NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at (888) 256-9840 or the US Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 immediately. If you are reporting a vessel coming too close to a whale, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 or email [email protected] Additional guidelines and safety tips can be found online.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is administered by a partnership of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawaiʻi through the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The sanctuary works to protect humpback whales and their habitat through research, education, conservation and stewardship.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources.

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