Cruise Humpback Whale TerritoryKaua‘i
Anyone who climbs aboard a vessel this time of the year and heads for the open ocean off Kaua‘i can expect to see HUMPBACK WHALES. There are so many of them that most boat companies don’t hesitate to guarantee sightings.
(Truth is, it’s hard to miss a 40-ton humpback when it propels its 45-foot bulk to the surface and then disappears in an enormous salt-water splash!)
Every year, humpback whales swim 3,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska to mate and calve in Hawai‘i’s clear, warm waters. The whales don’t arrive en masse, but researchers say there is a predictable order to their appearance in our waters. Generally, numbers peak in LATE DECEMBER THROUGH MID-APRIL. Protected under ENDANGERED SPECIES laws, the humpback population is growing.
Humpbacks exhibit a variety of behaviors that should be visible in one form or another from BOATS and SHORELINE LOOKOUTS. You might see a whale blow, which refers to the act of breathing and the cloud of water vapor produced above the animal’s head during the process of exhalation. Or, you might see a tail slap, a pectoral slap or, if you’re lucky, a breach. This watery pirouette occurs when a whale propels itself out of the water, generally clearing the surface with two-thirds (or more) of its body. Then, in an amazing feat of marine gymnastics, the animal will throw one pectoral fin out to the side and turn in the air about its longitudinal axis.
Whales do not technically spout water. Actually, they are letting out air through a blowhole at 300 miles per hour. A humpback whale’s brain weighs 14 pounds, more than four times the weight of a three-pound human brain, but smaller than the 20-pound brain of a sperm whale, which is the largest brain on the planet.
Humpbacks are clever, resourceful and agile creatures. And the males, though they don’t have vocal cords, have developed an amazing ability to sing. Hear their complicated tunes over hydrophones available aboard most WHALE-WATCHING VESSELS.
Curiosity is another trait known to humpbacks, so they may not be timid about approaching boats and often will go out of their way to interact with humans. It’s illegal, however, to get closer than 100 yards from a humpback.
Though the humpbacks are the seasonal stars of the show, the waters off this island are home to substantial populations of lower-profile whales that are here year-round and equally intriguing to observe, like the false killer whale, pilot whale, pygmy whale, beaked whale, melon-headed whale and even the sperm whale.
There are many ways to observe a humpback whale in the wild. SNORKEL CRUISES are a good bet, as are POWERED RAFTS and FISHING BOATS, which also travel into humpback territory.
Some excellent shoreline viewing sites include PO‘IPU BEACH on Kaua‘i’s South Shore; DANIEL K. INOUYE KILAUEA POINT LIGHTHOUSE and KALALAU TRAIL on the North Shore; and from the KAPA‘A OVERLOOK, located between Kapa‘a Town and Kealia Beach on the island’s east side.
• Blue Dolphin Charters (808) 335-5553
•Captain Na Pali (808) 338-9818
• Catamaran Kahanu (808) 645-6176
• Holo Holo Charters (808) 335-0815
• Kaua’i Sea Tours (808) 826-7254 or (800) 733-7997
• Na Pali Riders (808) 742-6331
• Z Tours (808) 742-7422