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Humpback whale breach

Every winter the Island of Hawaii is fortunate to experience the return of the North Pacific Humpback Whales on their annual migration to the islands where they come to give birth and mate.

The official whale season runs December 15th-April 15th, with peak whale watching season in late January to early March. An estimated 10,000 whales make their way to the warm Hawaiian waters and when it’s time to return to their northern feeding grounds in Alaska, the new mothers and their calves are the first to leave. They make the 3,500 mile journey north where they will feast on up to 2,000 pounds of small fish each day.

The giant marine mammals are a traditional part of winter on the Big Island, and whale watching is a big draw for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures. Once a protected endangered species, federal law prohibits tour operators from approaching within 100 yards of them by boat.  Fewer than 10% of the Humpback Whale’s original population remains, however their population is currently estimated at 21,000, up from about 6,000 about twenty years ago. With this successful rebound in numbers, 2017 marked the first season of the official recovery of the humpback population.

For the first time since 1966, humpbacks are no longer considered an endangered species. While this is a great reason to celebrate, the decision to take humpbacks of the list has some researchers concerned, therefore the animals will still be protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Scientists still have questions on how future climate change and warmer water temperatures will affect the humpback population, and will keep a close eye on their recovery and ability to thrive.

December 2017 is just around the corner, so it’s not too early to begin making plans to visit Hawaii Island for a whale watching adventure!

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