By A.R. Royo
It was a whale of a weekend this year on Maui, February 16 & 17. On 2013 President’s Day weekend, Maui celebrated the thousands of Humpback Whales that migrate here each winter to mate and calf with two of the year’s most important events: World Whale Day and Whale Tales.
World Whale Day
World Whale Day, sponsored by the Pacific Whale Foundation, was held Saturday, February 16 in Kihei with a parade, musical performances and informational displays. It was a free, fun and educational event, raising awareness about these cherished marine mammals and inspiring care for the vital and unique whale habitat of Maui County.
Whale Tales, sponsored by the Maui Whale Trust, featureed internationally renowned marine researchers, photographers, and conservationists who shared the latest discoveries on whales and the ocean environment. This two-day event was held at the Maui Theater, 878 Front St. in Lahaina where ‘Ulalena is currently performed. Topics included the mystery whale songs, whale behavior, ocean survival rescue in disentanglement efforts, and much more. The event occured between 10 AM and 4 PM Saturday and Sunday. No reservations were required and a donation $20 was suggested at the door.
The only known breeding and birthing areas for humpback whales in the United States are the Hawaiian Islands. Each winter, the Hawaiian islands become home to 8,000-12,000 humpbacks, making the tropical, clear, shallow, and protected waters of Hawaii one of the best natural laboratories in the world to study humpbacks and similarly, to book a whale watch.
Humpback whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal, migrating as far as 5,000 miles Alaskan summer feeding areas and Hawaii’s breeding grounds. Humpback whales undergo prolonged periods of fasting and have completely separated feeding from breeding and calving activities during the winter.No wonder Maui Whale Watching in Hawaii is among the most popular commercial activities for both locals and tourists alike.
The Whale Trust
The Whale Trust was formed in 2001 to support field research on earth’s largest marine mammals — whales and their marine environment. Much of their current research into the biology and behavior of humpback whales is carried out in the shallow and protected waters between the four islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe.
The mission of Whale Trust is to promote, support and conduct scientific research on whales and the marine environment, and develop public education programs based directly on results of scientific research. It also has the goalof cultivating and furthering Maui’s unique situation as a natural whale and marine environment research laboratory.
The Whale Trust is presently pursuing a number of other ongoing research experiments in Hawaii, that are focused on: humpback behavior; social norms; and communication. Here are a few:
Whale songs, occurring primarily during the breeding season, are sung only by males, and their composition slowly changes as they are being sung, with all singers in a population singing the same version at any one time. Why humpback whales sing remains unknown.
Female Status in the Hawaiian Breeding Grounds
One of the great unknowns in humpback whale behavior is the status of the female: reproductive behavour and how they fit in to the social structure of humpback breeding and calving grounds.
Humpback whales will usually devour close to an entire tonne of nourishment per day in order to survive the winter fasting period! A humpback’s diet consists of shrimp-like crustaceans called kill (euphausiids) and various types of small schooling fish, including herring, capelin, sand lance, and mackarel.
Mating & Calving
During the winter, humpback whales assemble in Hawaii’s tropical waters to mate and to calve. Most of Hawaii’s breeding grounds are toastier, more shallow, and have fewer predators than summer feeding areas.
Humpback Whale Societies
Most humpback social groups or communities are believed to be short-lived, with the longest lasting bond being between mother and calf. Still, there are hints of unexplored depths of communication..
Cow & Calf
After a 10-12 month gestation period, female humpbacks give birth to a single calf. Scientists have yet to officially record the live bearing of a humpback calf. Females with newborn calves are commonly sighted throughout the winter, often in shallower or more inshore waters than the adult population.
Yearlings & Sub-Adults
Calves typically nurse for the first 6-12 months of life, usually separating by the end of the first year. These year-old calves(yearlings) have often increased in weight by a factor of eight, and typically approach a length of nearly 9 metres-having nearly doubled in length.
Cow, Calf & Escort
Often a male escort accompanies or “escorts” a cow and calf on the breeding grounds. Surprisingly, the calves’ are not fathered by these male escorts, revealed by genetic testing. Female Humpback Whales reach sexual maturity at four to six years , and birth calves every 2-3 years after that.
Well known for their acrobatic surface displays, humpback whales are a favorite for whale watchers around the world. Whether there is any meaning inherent to these impressive displays, however, is still unknown.
But you don’t need to be a research scientist to experience and enjoy wild humpback whales exhibiting a wide variety of behaviors. HawaiiActive.com is located on Maui and offers a variety of Whale watching tours on the island.