Humpback Whales Returning Home

Humpback whales Maui

When the humpback whales return to the breeding grounds of Maui, they captivate us, drawing in people of every age with a profound curiosity about another world. For visitors and residents alike, the sight of a humpback in the waters off Maui is awe-inspiring and we celebrate the beginning of each season as these majestic, migrating whales arrive. The first humpbacks in Maui waters were officially sighted this season on October 10th.

As the vast blue horizon comes to life with playful breaches, competitive males and newborn calves learning, the Whale Trust team will share a little more about these incredible giants of the sea. If you would like to ask your children if they have any questions we would love to answer them. Please email


Hawaiian Name: Koholā

Scientific Name: Megaptera novaeangliae

• One of fifteen species of baleen whales.

• Humpbacks are gray to black with a humplike to sickle-shaped dorsal fin and distinctive bumps on the top of the head.

• Individuals are identified by their unique black-and-white pigment patterns on the underside of the tail flukes.

• Adults are 40-45 feet and an estimated 25-35 tons.

• Adult females are larger than males.

• Newborn calves are 10-15 feet and yearlings are 25-30 feet

Destination Hawaii

Returning Home

Humpback whales around the world migrate to warmer and relatively shallow waters in winter to mate and give birth. Most of the humpbacks migrating from feeding grounds along the northwest coast of North America (Vancouver Island to Alaska) assemble in the waters around Hawai’i. Since the waters around Maui are relatively shallow, warm and protected by Moloka’i, Lana’i and Kaho’olawe many choose to give birth here, and as most of these whales were born in Hawai’i waters, they are coming “home” for the season.

Arrival and Departure

While humpbacks in Hawaii have been reported in every month of the year, they are rarely sighted before September/October. Their arrival is continuous over the winter months with peak populations occurring mid-January to mid-March. Over the winter months, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 whales are expected to arrive after a 4 to 6 week migration from their feeding grounds.

Humpback whales do not all arrive at the same time. Instead their arrival is staggered, and their length of stay depends on several factors including age and sex. Certain groups seem to arrive at different times with young juveniles being among the first and pregnant females among the last. Adult males tend to stay the longest and females without calves the shortest.

Over the past few years, our researchers have observed changes in migration patterns across the North Pacific, with noticeably fewer whales and a breeding season that starts later and ends earlier. It has often been said that whales are an indicator of the health of the oceans. As such, it is imperative that scientists study these apparent changing trends.

What might these changes be telling us? How can we keep our oceans healthy? The well-being of these mammals matters to us all. The more we know the better stewards we can be.

Whale Trust is a nonprofit organization dedicated to independent scientific research and public awareness of whales and their environment. Based on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, we conduct and support marine research and education programs around Maui and elsewhere throughout the Pacific Ocean. We believe that the well-being of whales matters to us all. JOIN US AT THE 12TH ANNUAL WHALE TALES — FEBRUARY 16-19, 2018 | WHALETALES.ORG

Image Credit: Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures. Photo obtained under NMFS permit #783.

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