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Welcome to the Be-All, End-All Guide to All Things Humpback Whale.

Here you'll find tips on whale watching in Hawaii, the best points and peaks around the Hawaiians Islands to watch whales from land, things to think about before selecting a boat outfitter to get up close and personal with those behemoth 45-foot, 45 ton marine mammals. You'll also find a couple videos, an interview with a whale researcher and numerous blog articles and feature stories we've written about Hawaii's whales. We've also included a hand reference to those Outrigger properties with "whale-view rooms," so you can watch humpback whales breach, spy hop, pec slap, peduncle throw and fluke up dive from the comfort of your own lanai.

What's a peduncle throw? Spy hop? Pec slap? Fluke-up dive? Not to worry, we've got that covered, too.

So, bookmark this page. "Favorite" it. Make it your home page. And let's go whale watching.

To get you warmed up, let's start with some interesting facts about one of our ocean's largest marine mammals in Hawaii.

1. The humpback's scientific name is Megaptera novaeangliae and translates to "great wings of New England." Those "wings" are really their pectoral fins that--at 15 feet--are a full one-third the length of the humpback's overall body length. Coined by whalers, the common name of "humpback," refers to the animals' recognizable dorsal fin as they arch their backs when diving. In Hawaii, the word kohala refers to all species of whales, not just humpback. Humpbacks are gray to black in color with distinctive black-and-white pigment patterns on the underside of the pectoral fins and tail flukes. They also have unique bumps on the tops of their heads called tubercles, each sporting a hair follicle.

2. Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii from Alaska to mate, give birth and fatten up their young before they make the trek back to their feeding grounds of Alaska. The 3,500 mile trip takes four to five weeks each way. Humpbacks are found all throughout the Hawaiian Islands but research shows they tend to prefer shallower waters--approximately 600 feet or less. The first arrive as early as September or October but the "season" is generally said to run from December through April, with peak numbers in February and March. The whales arrive in staggered fashion and, on average, spend four to six weeks in Hawaii. While they're here, humpbacks tend to circulate throughout the main Hawaiian Islands, not remaining in any specific area for long.

3. On average, female humpbacks give birth every 2 to 3 years. Their gestation is 11 to 11.5 months. They will get impregnated while in Hawaii and return the next year to calve, although some females have been known to get pregnant and event birth during the migration to Hawaii. The calf will stay with the female for an entire year, returning with its mother to Hawaii, where, at some point, it will wean and separate from its mother. The male:female sex ration on the breeding grounds of Hawaii is 2 to 3 males to 1 female.

4. Male humpback whales sing songs, a complex series of sounds repeated over and over, that coincide with the breeding season. Singers are most often lone males, and their performance can go on for hours. The singing is presumed to be related to breeding but scientists aren't really sure. Singers assume a particular posture--tail up and head down at an angle of about 45 degrees. The tail is situated about 20 to 40 feet below the surface of the water. The whale song progressively changes each season; however, all singers in a population essentially sing the same version at any one time. Three hypotheses exist as to why males sing:

  • A display to attract females and repel males;
  • Display between males to signal status; and
  • Song as a measure of association between males.

5. Calves and their mothers generally remain close to shore and might often be accompanied by a third adult, called an "escort," which is most often a male but unlikely the father. Escorts may hang around for a few minutes to a few hours. The calf survives on its mothers fat-rich milk for 6 to 8 months, drinking an average of 100 gallons of milk per day. During her time in Hawaii, the mother does not eat--because the warm waters of Hawaii don't produce the zooplankton (krill) that humpbacks favor. Calves need to surface for a breath of air every three to five minutes, whereas, an adult can stay submerged for 15 to 20 minutes or longer. Calves are known to play while in Hawaii--imitating their mother's or escort's behaviors (spy hops, breaching, tail slaps, head lunges, etc.), as well as playing with sticks, boats or a diver in the water.

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