They blow and slap and dive and breach. They play and sing and feed and pose for photographs. These are one of the most fascinating species on Earth: the super-amazingly-awesome whales. No kidding. They are that awesome. They can be observed in various locations on our planet, but it is Hawai’i that most humpback whales go to in winter months to feed.

You can go there too. The Maui Island, the second largest of the Hawai’ian islands, is the whale watchers’ favourite. It looks like it’s the humpbacks’ favourite, too.

So… what’s the story, Hawai’ian whale glory?

Humpback whales

The Hawai’ian name for these beauties is kohola. Adult humpbacks weigh around 45-50 tonnes, and they’re some 45 feet long. They live, on average, 40 to 50 years. They are seasonal feeders, and their diet includes krill, plankton and small fish such as herring, mackerel and sandeel.

Image credit: Chris huh under a Creative Commons licence

This is how you and I look in comparison to a humpback:

Whale watching in Hawai’i

Humpback whales come visit the Hawai’ian islands from November to May, with the especially high season being from January to March. Folks at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary reckon that humpbacks may find Hawai’i suitable because of “the warm waters, the underwater visibility, the variety of ocean depths, and the lack of natural predators in the area”. Or maybe they just enjoy the area’s breathtakingly beautiful landscape?

Humpbacks are an endangered species, therefore they are protected by federal law in the United States: it’s illegal to get closer to a humpback whale than 100 yards by sea and 1,000 ft by air. But don’t worry, you won’t be breaching the law on one of those whale watching tours in Hawai’i: your boat captain will have enough decency and experience not to risk the life and safety of these beautiful creatures.

Whales in Hawai’i are pretty important financially, too: marine preservationists over at the Sanctuary estimate that whale watching industry contributes some $20m in total annual revenues.

To find out more about the trips whales make every year, have a go at this fun animated Migration Game developed by the whale-loving people at the Sanctuary: The Migration Game. And then next time you find yourself in Hawai’i, definitely book yourself onto one of the whale watching trips. The humpbacks will wave hello to you:

While on a whale watching trip, remember the basics:

1. Triple-check your camera battery. Make sure the memory card (or film, if you’re after the real thing) is not full.

2. If you have a tendency for seasickness, get some Dramamine (or an alternative pill) before you step onto the boat.

3. If your fellow travellers all suddenly flop to one side of the boat, don’t follow them: the boat might turn upside down and then it would be the whales doing some tourist-watching… Nah, just kidding. Simply enjoy the experience!

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