Established in 1980, World Whale Day is a widely-celebrated holiday in Hawaii, where our North Pacific humpback whales are currently spending their winter. In just a few short months, the whales will begin the 2,800 mile migration to Alaska, with the newborn calves making the journey for the first time. Since the Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted in 1972, the population of the North Pacific humpback whales has increased to over 20,000, with the majority of whales traveling back and forth between Hawaii and Alaska. The long daylight hours in the summer months in Alaska results in an abundance of nutrients in Alaskan waters, where the whales spend the summer feeding on mass amounts of bait fish. From April to October, we are fortunate to get the opportunity to witness these animals in the waters outside of Seward.
In Hawaii, World Whale Day is celebrated with parades, festivals, music, and educational activities. The humpback whales visit Hawaii each winter to breed and give birth in warmer waters. But why do they migrate between the warm waters of Hawaii and the nutrient-rich waters of Alaska? One primary reason is that Alaska waters are too cold for newborn calves. They need to spend the first months of their lives in warm waters feeding on their mother’s milk to gain strength and blubber before their journey north. The warm, shallow waters of Hawaii also have less predators, like orca whales, that could threaten newborn calves. Some humpbacks that are either too old or too young to breed do not migrate, and can be seen in Alaska waters year-round.
While in Hawaii, humpbacks exhibit dynamic breeding behaviors such as breaching, fluke diving, and males competing for females. In the summer, visitors to Kenai Fjords National Park are treated to sightings of breaching, fluke diving, and cooperative feeding behaviors such as bubble let feeding and lunge feeding.
World Whale Day was created to raise awareness and promote the protection of these magnificent giants, but you don’t need to be in Hawaii to celebrate the humpback whales and these conservation efforts. In Alaska, Major Marine Tours participates in Whale Sense, a voluntary program that promotes responsible whale watching practices. At home, you can help humpback whales through education and reducing your impact on the ocean. Cutting back on your use of single-use plastics, taking care of your local beach, and making sustainable seafood choices are just a few of the ways we can help promote the health of the oceans for humpback whales and all marine life.