KAPA‘A — Hawai‘i welcomes the return of the endangered North Pacific Humpback whales to their winter mating and birthing ground.
The annual “Welcome the Whales Ceremony” will be held Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Kealia Beach, just north of Kapa‘a. The free event is a celebration of music, poetry and song.
The occasion is to mark the humpback seasonal migration from Alaska to Hawai‘i, a 3,000-mile trip in just over a month. The largest density of whales in Hawaiian waters occur in February and March, however, they begin appearing as early as November.
Whales are popular to watch from shore and tour boats for their out of water breaching and slapping 15-foot fins on the ocean surface.
Adult humpbacks grow to up to 60 feet and weigh up to 40 tons. The gray and white mammals have a life span of about 50 years and consume up to 3,000 pounds of food per day.
The event is organized by Kohola Leo (Whale Voice), a nonprofit whale advocacy organization with a goal to ensure protection of whales and their ocean world. Through education and public outreach the volunteers work to generate concern and action to help protect what they call “intelligent, conscious, sentient and gentle beings” that are endangered and in need of help.
“We are a voice for the whales,” said a spokesperson for Kohola Leo in a release. “Our goal is to ensure their protection along with the ocean world in which they live and love.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the population of North Pacific humpback has climbed to approximately 20,000 whales since its low-point of fewer than 1,400 whales in 1966. The Southern Hemisphere humpback abundance prior is estimated at over 25,000 whales, and the North Atlantic estimate is currently at 11,570.
Some of the leading issues that affect whale habitats are the threat of nets and entanglement, sonar and acoustic impacts, vessel and propeller strikes, chemical pollution, fishing by-catch, over-fishing, ocean acidification, plastic garbage ingestion and reef destruction.
As many as 10,000 whales might visit the Hawaiian waters in a single season, according to the DLNR. Humpback whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Humpback whales have additional protection inside the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. These are areas adjacent to the main Hawaiian Islands with the exception of Kaho‘olawe.
The sanctuary is co-managed as a federal-state partnership by the DLNR and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The DLNR reminds boaters to be alert and watch for whales in Hawai‘i waters to avoid whale strikes. Federal rules prohibit ocean users from approaching within 100 yards of a humpback whale.