Tales of Whales: Humpbacks in Hawaii

by B. N. Sullivan

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:
Next: Encountering humpback whales underwater.


  1. Hi Bobbie - Love the webcam link - I have many different ones bookmarked that I visit throughout the year. My favorite ones are the eagle cams and several of the lighthouse cams. For this area, they are only during the warmer months or breeding times, so it will be a joy to visit your beach and hopefully spot a whale. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Hi Bobbie -- That was a neat clip. Would love for you to post it on our website too. We are www.funepets.com, a pet entertainment hub for all pet/animal lovers.


  3. I am so jealous!!!

    It is on the top of my must see before I die list.

  4. That is just wicked cool!

  5. @ Kathy - Glad to oblige. Hope you enjoy the webcam feed.

    @ funepets -- I'll go and have a look at your site. Thanks.

    @ Claire - I do hope you get to se the whales (here or elsewhere) sooner rather than later.


  6. @ Thomas -- You must have been commenting while I was answering the first three.

    Hope you come back for the next episode. ;-}

  7. Hi Bobbie - Many thanks for the mention. I thought that video was amazing. I;ve never heard of the pickle move, but I like that name.

    I've opened up the web cam and keeping my eyes peeled for for whales.

    There's a chance we may get to come see Pauko for ourselves in mid-March. :-)

  8. Hi Sheila - Thank YOU for reminding me to do a series about the whales here on The Right Blue.

    If you come here in March (or whenever) please do get in touch. We would love to get together with you and Andy.


  9. How amazing and I would love to have the ability to see these guys like this! Great your friend allowed you to use that video!

  10. Really enjoyed the post.

    We've been going to Maui the last few years, mostly to whale watch.

    This year we watched a mother whale circle for hours in the same spot. We were finally rewarded by seeing a baby humpback, still covered with red, pushed to the surface by mom.

    Would love to see one underwater.

  11. The video and webcam are awesome, I need something to brighten up this cold snowy Midwestern day, I will watch the webcam tonight and fix a drink in your honor !! thanks :)

  12. @ Mon@rch - I truly hope you get to see these wonderful creatures for yourself one day.

    @ David - How lucky you were to see a newborn calf. Good for you!

    @ Bernie - Yes, I hope the sight of the whales in Hawaii will give you a warm feeling on a cold winter's day. Enjoy.


  13. That video is so amazing. I love whales and hope to get to see them one day. My family is planning a trip to Hawaii in 2010 so maybe well be there when this is all happening. Would you be able to recommend some good snorkeling spots in Barbados as I am going to be going there this Feb. We have never been there but I love to snorkel. I have heard Barbados is amazing for snorkeling.
    PS- I love visiting your blog maybe it is the pieces in me, I think I was meant to swim in the ocean everyday. Im sooo jealous of what you get to do everyday.

  14. Hi Kyla - I, too, have heard that there's a lot to see in the waters around Barbados, but since I've never been there I can't give you any advice for snorkeling there.

    Glad to hear you and your family will be visiting Hawaii in 2010. Whether you come during whale season or not, you will surely love it here if you love the ocean.



We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry