Maui is considered one of the world's top whale watch spots, famous for the proximity of whales to its shoreline and the large number of whales found here. Warm sunny weather, great visibility, and clear ocean waters add up to excellent conditions for whale watching. More than 3,500 humpback whales come to Hawaii each winter to mate and give birth, making our state the nation's primary mating and calving ground for these endangered animals. Maui is where most of these whales are found. They are attracted to the shallow seas off Maui's south and western shores, the relative lack of predators and the warm water temperature.
Learn more of these majestic animals by visiting: pacificwhalefoundation.com
How can I see whales from shore? If so, why should I go on a whale watch?
The best way to spot whales is by scanning the horizon, looking for a blow...the misty vapor plume that results when a whale exhales at the surface. You can also look for large splashes caused by activities such as tail slapping, breaching or pectoral fin slapping.
How close can we get to whales on a cruise?
Hawaii has the benefit of having some of the very best whale protection laws in the world. We all observe a "100 yard minimum" law, which states that whales within 100 yards cannot be approached by any means, including by boat, kayak, sailboard or even by swimming. Being wild animals, whales can approach us as they wish. It's not uncommon for whales to come up alongside the boat, or may even swim beneath it. We call these events "whale muggings." The boat captain can't move the boat until the whale has departed!
What's the best time of day to see the whales?
Based on our two decades of experience with whale watching and whale research, the Pacific Whale Foundation found that all times of day are good for watching whales. They appear to be active throughout the day. More than time of day, the ability to see whales depends on conditions such as wind speed, sun glare or sea state.
What are our chances of seeing them?
The peak of the season is in January, February, March and April, but whales are commonly seen in Maui from December through early May.
What are hydrophones? Are they important?
One experience not to be missed is listening to the haunting songs of male whales. Hydrophones are sensitive microphones that can be lowered into the water. This is done when the boat's engine is turned off. The sounds are usually played over the boat's public address system. You're likely to hear not one but several singing whales in the area.
Will we see a breach?
One of the thrills of whale watching is that you're observing huge animals that are wild, free and somewhat unpredictable. Because the whales are in Hawaii to mate, give birth and care for their young, there are fascinating behaviors that occur here, such as "singing" or the intense shoving and pushing of males as they compete for a position near a receptive female. Certainly, breaching is one of the most dramatic of all whale behaviors, and is a treat for all viewers, but there are many other whale behaviors that are as equally engaging to watch.
Why do whales breach?
This behavior is seen in many species of cetaceans. It takes place at the feeding areas and at the warmer calving areas. One theory is that whales breach when they hear a boat in the vicinity; breaching lets they visually scan the surface for boats they hear but cannot visually or acoustically localize underwater. Recent research indicates that breaching is more likely to occur when a male humpback approaches another singing male humpback or joins a surface active group. The aerial act of breaching could be a display of dominance and aggression in this circumstance.
What do the whales eat here?
Whales don't engage in feeding behaviors in Hawaii. They may feed opportunistically, but there is actually very little food for them here. Keep in mind that the most nutrient-rich areas of the world's oceans are the cooler, polar regions. These areas support large populations of small fish. In contrast, Hawaii's warm waters contain much less nutrient material (which is why our ocean is so clear).
How many whales are usually seen in a pod?
Humpback whales do not appear to form stable groups or long term bonds, with the exception of the mother and calf bond, which lasts a little less than a year. In Maui, mother-calf pods are seen more frequently than single adults or larger groups of four or more whales. Sometimes an escort whale will join the mother and calf. It is assumed that the escort is a sexually active male. Typically, he remains with them for less than a day -- most associations last only a couple of hours, or in many cases, only a few minutes.
Larger pods are often formed by a group of males as they compete with each other to get near to a sexually receptive female. On rare occasions, Pacific Whale Foundation researchers have encountered pods of more than 20 whales.
When are the calves born?
Sightings of calves occur most frequently after late January. The average gestation time for humpback whales is 10 to 12 months, so that calves conceived during one breeding season are born during the next winter's breeding season.
Visit pacificwhalefoundation.com for more details on tours and activities
*all information provided courtesy by The Pacific Whale Foundation
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