Thar She Blows!
Photo by Susan Forsberg
Whale watching season peaks with acrobatic displays
By Leo Azambuja
Every November as many as 10,000 gentle giants arrive in Hawaii’s waters, their favorite destination for thousands of years. Humpback whales hang around the islands until May, when they swim back to polar waters.
Whale watching season in Hawaii spans for about seven months. But according to Captain Joe Reich, Alyce C. Sportfishing owner, February is the best month to go after the whales. Reich said that during the peak of the season, the whales are most active, flapping their giant tail fins, and breaching their massive bodies almost completely out of the water.
Captain Jim, who commands the power-catamaran Ama Lua, said that halfway through the season is when most whales give birth, and also when most of the mating rituals occur. This could explain why they are so active at this time.
Adult Humpbacks can reach up to 50-feet long, and weigh as much as a ton per foot. Their long front flippers, measuring about a third of their bodies, gave the whales its scientific name, Megaptera noveangliae, which means giant wings. The whales spend summers in polar waters, feeding on krill and small fishes. Once in Hawaii, the whales live off the accumulated fat, and spend their time mating and rearing their calves.
Hunted to the brink of extinction, Humpback whales made an impressive comeback after a 1966 world-moratorium on whaling. The International Whaling Commission estimated that by then about 250,000 whales had been hunted worldwide, and the global population had been reduced by 90 percent. Today there are some 70,000 whales left in the world. Most of them, around 50,000, inhabit the southern hemisphere waters. The rest are split between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific.
Located in the middle of the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Molokai residents and visitors are awarded with a front-row view of these magnificent creatures. The sanctuary includes all the channels between Molokai, Lanai and Maui, plus small portions of the ocean surrounding Diamond Head, Big Island’s northwest coast, Kauai’s North Shore, Oahu’s North Shore and a large portion of the ocean extending from Molokai’s West End.
“It’s amazing to be able to see how intelligent those animals are,” Captain Mike Holmes said. “If everybody would be able to see how unique these creatures are, there would be no whale hunting.”
For those who want to experience whale watching a little more up close and personal, a few Molokai-based companies offer whale watching boat tours.
Captain Holmes takes up to seven passengers in his 27-foot twin-diesel cabin cruiser. He does up to three trips a day, depending on weather. “It’s usually less windy in the morning,” he said, noting that the wind might pick up in the afternoon, creating rougher ocean conditions. He charges $70 for adults and $50 for children six to 12-years-old. Mike’s company, Fun Hogs Sportfishing, can also be accessed on the Web at www.molokaifishing.com. Those interested in go whale watching with Holmes have the convenience of booking and ticketing the trip online. Holmes also can be reached at 567-6789.
Captain Reich can take up to six people in Alyce C., a 31-foot cruiser. The trip lasts for about three hours, and costs $75. Reich said he gives a price-break to children, and depending on their age, they might go for free. Reich can be reached at 558-8377 or visit www.alycecsportfishing.com.
Tim Forsberg’s Ama Lua, a 31-foot power catamaran, can fit up to 16 whale watchers in it. Forsberg said that with a little luck passengers can also spot spinner dolphins and manta-rays. Captain Jim commands the Ama Lua. Tours cost $69, and can be booked through Kaunakakai’s Molokai Fish and Dive store, which has been operating for over 30 years. Children under six-years-old can go for free. For more information call 553-5926 or visit www.molokaifishanddive.com.
Captain Clayton Ching takes up to six people in his Hallelujah Hou. The 24-foot power catamaran is fitted with two 50-horsepower engines, making the boat eco-friendly, according to Ching. The two-hour trip costs $75 per person. The company can be reached at 336-1870, or at www.hallelujahhoufishing.com.
For those who are coming to Molokai from Maui, there’s a cheaper way of watching Humpback whales. Instead of hoping on a plane, whale watchers can board the Molokai Princess, the inter-island ferry, and take advantage of the $42.50 trip for adults, and $21.50 trip for children four to 12 years old. Toddlers under four years old don’t have to pay. With thousands of whales in the marine sanctuary, there’s a good chance of spotting whales during the trip. The company can be reached at (808) 667-6165.
The whale watching season lasts until May, but for those who are planning on taking a tour to watch the Earth’s most magnificent creatures, do it as soon as possible. Right now the whales are well rested from the long migration from polar waters, and full of energy to boost the acrobatic moves that made them famous around the world, according to Captain Reich. The best conditions are when the ocean and winds are calm. Good luck, and remember to bring a camera.