When it comes to sea life in Maui, the Humpback whales are certainly the star of the show. From December to April these gentle giants can be found frolicking in the channels off Maui, resting and birthing their calves in the crystal blue water. These whales make the longest migration of any mammal, traveling over 3000 miles from the frigid waters of Alaska to this tropical destination.
Humpback whales are among some of the largest mammals and animals in the world weighing in at up to 30 tons and measuring up to 45 feet in length. These baleen whales are unique in many ways. The females are larger than the males which is uncommon in mammals and they each have individualized flukes like a fingerprint that is located on the underside of their tales. They also have a very long gestational period of around 11 to 12 months! They are also recognized for their beautiful songs that only the males sing. These songs can be heard from up to 20 miles away, during your next maui trip, make sure to listen for whales when in the water!
The relationship between humpback whales and Hawaii is rooted deeply both in the history and ecosystem.
Sailors have traveled to the Hawaiian islands since the 17th century to resupply ships and to hunt whales in the local waters. At the peak of the whaling industry, up to 400 whaling ships would stop in harbors such as Lahaina, Hilo, and Pearl Harbor every year. The whales were hunted for their fatty blubber which was used for amp oils, soap additives, and machinery lubricant. By the 1970s Humpbacks were almost hunted to extinction but have since recovered their population since being added to the endangered species list in 1973. Humpbacks are deeply important to the ocean and land ecosystems of the island as well. In Hawaii an ecosystem runs from the mountain (Mauka) to the ocean (Makai), so what happens on land directly influences the ocean. Kia’i is a Hawaiian word meaning ‘protector’ and describes the relationship between a land and ocean dweller that acts as kia’i to one another. The kia’i for the humpback whale (and vice versa) is the sandalwood tree. Before Hawaii was contacted by Europeans, there were many lowland and highland sandalwood forests that supported many bird and native bug species. When Europeans began to colonize the Hawaiian islands, they began to abuse the abundance of natural resources. Whaling ships began to harbor in Hawaii and hunt the humpbacks for their blubber and ivory. Around the same time, sandalwood forests were being clear cut to export to China to be used as incense, medicine, and perfume. This feedback loop had many negative effects for both species and persists to this day with still very little native sandalwood in the islands. Sail Maui aims to mend this severed kia’i by participating in programs to replant native sandalwood forests in the West Maui Watershed. Not only will this positively affect the Humpbacks, but it will also re-establish the ahupua’a ecosystem. The ahupua’a in Hawaii is a division of land and resources from Mauka (mountain) to Makai (ocean). By replanting sandalwood in West Maui ahupua’a’, Sail Maui also aims to reduce the amount of micro-plastics entering the ocean via runoff which harms the coral ecosystems around Maui. By replanting forests, plastics are more easily trapped in the root systems allowing them to biodegrade into the earth instead of contributing to ocean plastic.
Humpbacks have been traveling to the Hawaiian islands long before humans inhabited the archipelago and at Sail Maui we believe in protecting these gentle giants.
Their numbers have recovered greatly since almost reaching extinction and being listed as endangered in 1973. Sail Maui is committed to the protection of these beautiful creatures and follows all regulations when approaching them for whale watching, don’t forget to book a cruise today!