The humpback whale, a species of baleen whale, are favorites among whale-watchers because of their frequent aerial displays. They can often be seen breaching (jumping out of the water) or slapping the water's surface with their pectoral fins, tails, or heads. The whales are mostly gray and can weigh between 50,000 and 80,000 pounds (22,000 and 36,000 kilograms). A humpback whale's body can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) long, with females growing slightly longer than males.
Although humpback whales can swim to any coastline in the United States, only Hawaii and Alaska have large populations of humpback whales appearing regularly each year. From December to March, Pacific humpback whales call the waters around the Hawaiian Islands home. They feed and breed off the warm coast. On a clear day with a pair of binoculars, one can spot a humpback whale from the shore.
Humpback whales can be seen offshore from all the Hawaiian Islands in winter. The Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary is the waters around the Big Island, Maui, Kaua’i, and O’ahu to 600 feet in depth. In Alaska, look for the whales in summer around the entire southern coast.
Humpback whales can eat up to 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) of food each day. Most of the food is tiny crustaceans (such as krill), plankton, and small fish.
At the beginning of spring, the Pacific humpback whale population begins their 3,000-mile journey to their summer feeding grounds off the Alaskan coast. It is one of the longest migrations in the animal world. The humpback whales will feed around Alaska all summer then make the reverse migration back to Hawaii. They go months without eating, only living on stored fat reserves.
The humpback whale is federally listed as endangered. Threats to these whales include entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, whale watch harassment, habitat impacts, and harvest.
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary has a yearly sanctuary ocean count for volunteers. Volunteers go to select viewing locations and watch for the whales and behavior.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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