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A Whale of a Good Time

Now that spring has officially sprung, Hawaii’s famed beach season is finally upon us. But the warmer days ahead spell the end of another unmissable island experience that’s worth catching while you still can: the annual humpback whale migration.

Between late December and early May, thousands of humpback whales congregate in the warm, shallow waters off O’ahu’s southern and western coasts. These placid coves are the principal breeding grounds for Northern Pacific humpbacks, or koholā in Hawaiian, who make the annual pilgrimage to mate, birth calves, and nurse their young.

a whale jumping out of the water         Hawaiian_Islands_Humpback_Whale_National_Marine_Sanctuary#/media/File:HIHWNMS_-_humpbacks_(27984972255).jpg

Stretching 50 feet long or more and weighing in at up to 80,000 pounds, these graceful, gentle ocean dwellers are a sight to behold. Native Polynesians have long regarded them as guardians of the sea and seafarers alike, with many myths and legends of koholā leading wayward sailors back to land.

Tragically, Hawaii’shumpback whales were once on the brink of extinction from overhunting, pollution, and unregulated travel by ships that injured humpbacks and disrupted their migration patterns. Humpback numbers fell as low as 5,000 individuals worldwide in the 1960s, prompting Congress to take action. Protective legislation helped stabilized the population and culminated in 1992 with the creation of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary near Maui. This 1,400 square-mile habitat offered humpback whales a permanent safe harbor in Hawaii and helped to restore their numbers, which currently exceed 135,000.

In addition to whale watching, visitors to the sanctuary can snorkel, paddleboat, and more, provided they maintain a safe distance from the whales. Numerous whale-watching boat tours also set out from O’ahu hubs like Waikiki and Ko Olina during peak migration season. Landlubbers have a good chance of catching a glimpse as well—as long as they’re willing to hike to high points in southeastern O’ahu like Makapu’u Lighthouse or Hanauma Bay. Whether you’re watching from land or sea, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see one of our titanic winter visitors.

With 24 species of cetaceans, 5 types of sea turtles, monk seals, and more, our waters are teeming with stunning marine wildlife. So while you look forward to warmer days ahead, take advantage of this April and marvel at the diverse sea creatures that call these islands home.

Written by Chris, a local expert guide for Waikiki Crawling. A historian on the lam from the world of academia, Chris enjoys gardening, hiking, and playing at open mic nights after one too many beers. Want to learn more about Honolulu’s hidden history? Join us on an Aloha Pub Crawl!


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