Humpback Whales Videos: Kona, Hawaii & Glacier Bay, Alaska

Everybody loves whale watching in Alaska and Hawaii, but these magnificent creatures are still struggling with survival.

Whales and Dolphins: Whales and dolphins (cetaceans) are divided into two suborders – baleen whales (mystecetes) and toothed whales (odontocetes).

  • Baleen Whales – The humpback whale is by far the most common baleen species found in Hawaiian waters, although there have been rare sightings of fin, minke, Bryde’s, blue, and North Pacific right whales as well. As many as 10,000 humpbacks come to Hawai‘i every year to mate, give birth and nurse their calves. Hawaii’s humpback whale season runs from November through May, with January through March being the peak whale-watching months. Humpback whales are provided special protection in Hawai‘i by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
  • Toothed Whales – Hawai‘i’s toothed whales range from the endangered sperm whale to a variety of smaller whales and dolphins. Commonly sighted toothed whales include pilot and false killer whales, as well as bottlenose and spinner dolphins. For more on toothed whales, visit the NOAA protected species site.

Humpback Whales Are Still At Risk: Humpback whales range throughout the world’s ocean, migrating between feeding grounds near the poles and calving grounds in tropical waters. In 1973, they were placed on the Endangered Species List, as commercial whaling had significantly reduced their numbers. Each year, thousands of humpback whales migrate between Alaska and Hawai‘i. In parts of Alaska, like Glacier Bay National Park, they feed on huge swarms of small fish and krill throughout the summer.

Many whales with a long history in the Glacier Bay area haven’t been showing up to their traditional feeding areas. Not only has the number of whales declined dramatically, but their health and reproduction have suffered too. In 2016 and 2017, whales on the feeding grounds were noticeably thinner than they should be after traveling back from the tropics. “We’ve seen very few calves in the past few years,” says Christine Gabriele. “Perhaps the most worrisome part of what we’ve seen is that the whales that were here all summer were still looking thin toward the end of their feeding season. The number of whales is still low, but the good news is that in 2018 we’ve started seeing fewer whales that appear thin.”

Then, after the winter months in Alaska, they travel to the warm, shallow waters off Hawai‘i to mate, give birth, and raise their calves.

Humpback Whales Don’t Eat In Hawaii: While in Hawai‘i, humpback whales do not eat. There are a few good reasons for them to forgo the feasts of Alaska during the winter. Primarily, expectant mothers migrate to Hawai‘i to reduce the risks of predation on their newborn calves. The adult humpback whale is relatively safe from predators but their calves are at risk from orcas. In Hawai‘i, orcas are uncommon. Additionally, whales are born with a relatively thin layer of blubber. In Hawai‘i, humpback whale calves can stay warm while they nurse and produce the blubber they’ll need to survive the cold waters of Alaska.

Humpback Whale Research Video: Here is stunning footage from the Marine Mammal Research Program was shot using drones and shows the whales swimming near the ocean’s surface.

Humpback Whales, Climate Change And Prey Availability: In the face of climate change and shifting prey availability, the aim of this project is to quantify the bioenergetic demands of humpback whale migration between Alaskan feeding- and Hawaiian breeding grounds.

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In 2016, the distinct population segment (DPS) of humpback whales in Hawaii were delisted from the Endangered Species List. However, since then, sighting rates of humpback whales in Hawaiian and southeast Alaska have dropped. There is currently a lack of understanding of why humpback whale numbers have reduced. This project will contribute to efforts investigating the possible causes of this apparent decline including shifts in habitat use, changes to food availability linked to prey depletion and climate change.

“The main purpose is the conservation of these animals, so we try to collect information that is empirical, but that is applied for conservation outcomes,” said Lars Bejder, director of the Marine Mammal Research Program.

How Close Can Boats Get To A Humpback Whale? Federal law states that no one may approach a humpback whale within 100 yards in Hawaiian waters. This means that all ocean users (boaters, swimmers, surfers, etc. ) must stay at least 100 yards from any humpback whale at all times. NOAA and DLNR issue a very limited number of special permits to researchers and rescue personnel to get closer than 100 yards. If, while on the water, you find a whale closer than 100 yards to you – if a whale approaches you, for instance – NOAA asks that you remain stationary and wait for the whale to move away. If you are in a motorized vessel, please put your engine in neutral (do not turn it off), and wait for the whale to move away. For more information about whale watching rules and guidelines in Hawaii, please visit the whale guidelines web page.

Underwater Video of Whale Encounter in Kona, Hawaii:


Breaching Humpback Whale – Glacier Bay National Park:

Humpback Whale Video: