Whale Songs

Dances with Whales. Photo actually taken in Tonga. Courtesy of the artist.

Pacific Humpback Whales are truly native Hawaiians—many of them were conceived and born in Hawaiian waters. The Humpbacks spend most of the year in the waters off the Alaska coast and in the Inside Passage where they feed. The waters there are rich in plankton, which is their primary food. Typically, in October and November they begin traveling south to warmer waters. They can be seen all along the Western US coast but particularly around Monterrey during this period of migration. They eventually end in Mexico, along the Baha coast, and in Hawaii where they spend the winter months. It is here where the whales mate and birth their young. The best times to see the whales is toward the end of January to the beginning of March each year. This is the time the whales are most active and can often be seen breaching (jumping) close to the shoreline. The baby whales have grown to the point that they can jump and play. Often, they will breech 10 or more times in rapid succession. Naturally curious, they will approach boats. When the ocean is calm, the mothers tend to keep the babies close to shore—usually within 100 yards or so—where there is more protection from predators. A mother and baby tend to travel with one or more “escort” males who are typically felt NOT to be the babies’ father.

The best places in Hawaii to see the whales are in the areas off of Maui towards Lanai and off the Kona and Kohala Coasts on the Big Island. See the map above to identify these areas. Living on the Big Island, we often see 30 to 40 whales (identified by their spouts) just off the coast near Kua Bay–just North of the KOA airport. Mothers often take their newborn babies into Kailua Bay and stay nearly motionless for hours (“logging”) with the newborn balancing on the mother’s snout.

Much has been speculated about the Humpback “song” (whale songs) but not much is truly known for sure. It does seem that the males are certainly the noisiest. Most of the scientists feel that the song is likely a mating ritual–it does sound as though they are in serious pain at times! Some persons have noted that the songs seem to change each year. If you listen to the sound clips, you can see that they are often high pitched and at times sound almost like cows. These clips were taken with use of an underwater microphone (Hydrophone).

This clip was taken just off the coast of Lana’i in March 2015. A group of whales with their young were directly under our boat. It was so loud that they could be heard even without the Hydrophone:

Whale sounds recorded off the coast of Lana’i in 2014. They sound almost like cows!

This clip was taken off the Kona Coast in 2015:

These voices are much more high pitched. With use of a hydrophone, the sounds can be heard over a mile away.