Hawaiian Humpbacks

Every year more than 2,000 humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian waters.  A population of up to 600 inhabits the waters off Big Island’s western coast, and for those that come to watch them there’s nothing quite like it.  Watching whales in the clear blue waters of Hawaii is a far cry from mainland whale watching.  To see the animal beneath the water, as well as above gives one a sense of scale that you just don’t get when the water is murky.

Humpbacks come to Hawaii for two reasons: to mate and to give birth.  Most Hawaiian humpbacks travel 3000 miles from Alaska where they spend their summers, but whales in Hawaii have been recorded traveling all over the Pacific, coming from as far away as South America and Russia.

Adults can attain lengths of up to 60 feet, but most humpbacks max out at around 45 feet.  At birth the calf weighs only about a ton (mom weighs up to 50 tons), but it comes out already measuring nearly 15 feet in length.  That would be like a normal adult woman giving birth to a child standing  nearly 2 feet tall.  That’s a big baby.

The calf effectively doubles in length in its first year.  By the time it reaches adulthood its tail will be as wide as the calf was long – 15 feet.  Each pectoral fin (front flippers) will also equal 1/3 the body length.

The largest muscle in the whale’s body is the tongue, which will also equal about 1/3 animal’s length (though it’s often a foot or two shorter).  Fully grown in the middle of the summer when the whale is at its largest, the tongue will weigh more than two tons.

The blow from a humpback whale isn’t water vapor from the lungs (as many people think).  It’s caused by the tremendous speed at which the air comes out.  The whale begins to exhale about 2 inches beneath the surface.  The air exits the blowhole at about 300mph (each lung is the size of a small car) and vaporizes the surface water into a stream of steam twenty feet tall and six feet wide.

Whale season in Hawaii is December through March, and in that time the water off Kona side is Whale soup.  These magnificent animals are only around for a few short months and then they’re gone to cooler places.