Crossing Paths with a Humpback

Any sort of water activities, fishing or scuba diving, off the Kohala coast in winter involves a chance of seeing a whale. Indeed, Kohala is not just the part of the island we call home, it is the Hawaiian word for whale. In winter the whales are here in large numbers… Boat or drive north of Kawaihae and the odds approach certainty that you will see not just a few, but a lot of Humpback Whales as they cruise the waters along this sheltered coastline. Rental cars are parked along the coastal highway wherever a pod can be seen. Just getting to a dive site can involve navigating around a pod or two as blows and fins are seen in all directions. Dive beneath the water and you can listen to the songs of the whales echoing eerily through the blue.

Humpback Trio
A trio of Humpback Whales pass by off of point Adolphus, Alaska, 30 June 2004
During the winter these whales can be found around all of the Hawaiian Islands. They come here to mate and give birth in the warm tropical waters. The most sheltered areas in the lee of the large islands have the greatest concentrations, this includes the Kona and Kohala coast of the Big Island. Through January, February and March the whales can be seen all along the coast. Much of these waters have been designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to protect these unique animals during their winter stay.

Bubble Net
Humpback Whales closing the bubble net at the entrance of Peril Straight, Alaska, 25 July 2006
Come spring the Hawaiian population of whales head north, to the food rich waters of Alaska. It is an interesting experience, in addition to regularly seeing these whales off the Kohala Coast, I regularly see them on the other end of the migration while boating in Alaska. The activity of the whales is different at either end of the journey, in Hawai’i they pretty much just hang out and sing, slowly cruising the coast or just hovering below the surface for many hours. In Alaska it is all about eating, here you watch whales circling through food rich areas over and over. Sometimes the whales cooperate to create bubble nets, encircling shoals of krill or herring.

In past journeys to Alaska I have had many opportunities to watch these majestic animals. We regularly stop and watch when we get the chance, drifting while whales feed around us. Hopefully this results in good photos to enjoy and post on the blog. At the end of the trip I fly back to Hawai’i to resume my usual life. But when winter comes the Humpbacks will follow, returning to the warm tropical waters around the islands to mate and give birth to the next generation. I look forward to seeing them off the Kohala Coast and listening to their songs while diving in those warm waters.

What are the odds of encountering the same whale at both ends of this journey? I wonder.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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