One of the most wonderful -- and wondrous -- things about diving here in Hawaii, is the fact that some 10,000 humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) spend the winter months in our waters. During the winter months, we get to see them frequently on the surface, and once in awhile, underwater as well.
Our blogger friend Sheila put up a humpback whale video on her site yesterday, and it reminded us to share some whale tales with our readers. For openers, here's the video:
(If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.)
The humpbacks that come to Hawaii every winter are a part of the North Pacific population that spend their summers in Alaskan waters. They pass the summer feeding, mostly, and then migrate south to warmer waters in winter. Some of these whales winter in the eastern Pacific, near Baja California, while the rest come here to Hawaii. It is here that they mate, and where the mama whales who successfully mated the year before give birth to their calves.
The whales begin arriving for the season in late Fall. We usually spot the first ones some time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The arrival of the whales is a big deal to those of us who live near the coast or spend time in the water. Neighbors vie to be the first to spot the whales as they arrive, and to spread the word, "They're here! They're here!"
We see them offshore frequently, throughout the winter. We see them spout when they come to the surface to breathe. As mammals the whales are air breathers, and even though they can hold their breath for quite a long time, they must come up to the surface regularly for air.
The humpbacks play near the surface, too. They slap the surface of the ocean with their tail flukes, or with their big, flat pectoral fins. They breach and frolic with one another. Quite often we see the mama whales with their youngsters breaching almost simultaneously -- a real sight to behold!
These are huge creatures, weighing over 40 tons at adulthood. Despite their mass, they are very agile in the water. In the video you'll see one whale manage to leap almost completely out of the water. We call that maneuver a "full pickle" -- a term based on an apt description we once heard: that the humpback whale sort of resembles a huge dill pickle, with ceiling fan blades for pectoral fins. I can't recall exactly where we heard that, but the image stuck, and we began referring to a full breach as a "full pickle."
Here's a link to a live web cam at Puako, where we dive most often, so you can see what we see from the shore. If you're lucky, you just may see some whales. (You can also see what our weather and ocean surface conditions are like, in real time!)
In the next post we'll tell you about some encounters we've had with humpback whales. Meanwhile, you can find out more about these incredible creatures at these recommended websites:
- Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary - NOAA
- Getting to Know the Humpback Whale - The Dolphin Institute