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Cruise Humpback Whale Territory

Essential OahuOahu

Anyone who climbs aboard a vessel this time of the year and heads for the open ocean off O‘ahu can expect to see humpback whales. There are so many of them that most boat companies don’t hesitate to guarantee sightings.

(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 first humpback of the 2019-20 season was spotted on Oct. 1, 2019, in waters off Kaua‘i’s northwest coast. Generally, numbers peak in late December through mid-April.

Protected under endangered species laws, the humpback population is growing. In fact, an estimated 10,000 humpbacks are expected to cruise through Hawai‘i’s waters this season, coming and going at their own pace.

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. 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.

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 will often go out of their way to interact with humans. It’s illegal to get closer than 100 yards from a humpback.

There are many ways to observe a humpback whale in the wild. Snorkel cruises are a good bet, and powered rafts and fishing boats also travel humpback territory. ATLANTIS ADVENTURES offers several whale-watch cruises, with guaranteed sightings or the return cruise is free. MAKAPU‘U POINT LIGHTHOUSE TRAIL, located within Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline on O‘ahu’s southernmost point, offers great opportunities to spot whales all along the 2-mile out-and-back paved hiking route. To get to Makapu‘u Point, go east past Sandy Beach Park on Kalaniana‘ole Highway until you see a sign on the right. Visitors can park for free in the lot at the base of the trail. Other good shoreline viewing sites around the island can be found at Ka‘ena Point (West O‘ahu), Hālona Blowhole Lookout and Hanauma Bay (South Shore), Shark’s Cove and Turtle Bay Resort (North Shore), and Lanikai Beach on the Windward side of the island.


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