Well Lahaina Divers dive buddies, it is that time of the year again. Yep, you got it right, Whale season!!! Many of us wait in anticipation of this time of the year, and not for turkey meals, or Christmas presents, but for the return of our annual visitors, the Humpback Whales. Each year, these mammoth mammals navigate over 3,000 miles of open ocean, migrating from the plankton rich waters of Alaska to the clear, warm waters of Hawaii to mate and give birth. During this migration, it is believed that the Whales use the earth’s magnetic field, temperatures, and currents to find their way back to our waters. As well, during their migration, they will average between 3 to 7 miles an hour with very few stops in between. Since the average human walks about 3 miles per hour, image walking at a brisk pace for 2,500 to 3,000 miles and rarely stop during that journey!
Our annual Whale season starts normally in November and runs until May. This year, our first sighting of a humpback Whale was back in September and now they are beginning to arrive in earnest. Each year, we have seen a slight increase in the Whale population that visits us here in Hawaii. The overall Humpback whale population is estimated to be near 12,000 whales which is well below the pre-whaling population, but is slowly growing. Last year, during the annual Humpback Whale count here in Maui 1,054 Whales were counted. As the population of Humpback Whales o visit Maui varies from year to year, last year’s numbers were still considered strong. As a point of perspective, in 2011 1,607 Whales were counted and 2010 1,208 were counted. With over 1,000 Whales here in the waters surrounding Maui, your chances of seeing a Whale are great, and even better, your chances of being serenaded by Whales singing while you are on a dive are pretty good.
Male Humpback Whales are those that sing while here at the breeding grounds. Scientists speculate that this behavior is to either attract females, or to warn off other males. What is even more amazing is that the song the males start with at the beginning of the season is exactly the same song they ended the last season with. As the season progresses, their song will gradually change. Scientists believe that this is a display of a male Whales strength as it displays the Whale’s ability to hold its breath, or how long or loud they can sing.
Topside behavior is amazing as well, and is what we see the most. Whether it is simply breathing, to breaches, pectoral fin slaps, or if you are lucky, a spy-hop where they will rise straight out of the water and look around. On a rare occasion, during our transit between dive sites and Lahaina, we will encounter a competition pod, or also known as a comp pod. These are groups of males swimming with a female and competing amongst each other physically by pushing, bumping, slapping, or otherwise competing against each other to win the female’s favor.
While we enjoy watching our large visitors while plying the waters between Lahaina and our dive sites, we must keep in mind some key items. First and foremost, our Humpback Whales are a protected species and there are laws concerning approaching or nearing these great creatures. The law states that nobody is to approach any closer than 100 yards. Over the last few years, the authorities have been cracking down even harder on this regulation. Also, we are a diving facility and our primary focus is to get you to your dive site and back on time as many of our guests have other activities scheduled for the day. We will however, where possible, safe, legal, and time permitting, give our guests a chance to see our Humpback Whales that are here visiting us.
As always, we look forward to sharing your vacation with us and having the opportunity to show you the splendors of the underwater Maui. Now that Whale season is upon us, we also get to enjoy the added benefit of being in the same waters as these magnificent creatures. It is only because of you we get to do this, so we would like to thank you for ‘taking us diving’ while you are here. Until next time, A Hui Ho.