What Are Humpback Whales (Kohola)?
Kohola (Hawaiian for humpback whale) is a large species of baleen whale. Males usually range between 40 and 50 feet long, and weigh around 90,000 pounds! Their immense size makes their graceful movements even more impressive, as it’s not uncommon to see these beautiful creatures “breach.” Breaching (also known as “cresting”) occurs when a humpback propels at least 40% of its massive body out of the water. No one knows why Kohola breach, some scientists think it may help them “scratch” itchy skin, while others believe that Kohola breach for fun. Either way, seeing a Kohola breach is one of the most fantastic things to experience when visiting Maui.
Why Do the Whales Visit Hawaii?
We don’t actually consider the humpbacks as visitors, but “kamaaina.” This means native born. North Pacific humpback whales are born in Hawaiian waters. The vast majority of them come to our beautiful paradise to breed, calve, and nurse their young. It’s a long, dangerous journey that is over 3,000 miles and two months in length. But when they visit, the Kohola stay for an extended vacation. They usually stay from December to May. Some Native Hawaiians believe the Kohola are “aumakua,” or family guardians. They bring warm tides, and are treated with honor and respect.
How Can I See a Whale?
Humpbacks can be seen across all of the Hawaiian Islands, but the best viewing spot is in the Aua Channel, a shallow length of water between West Maui (Lahaina and Kaanapali), Lanai, and Molokai. People travel from across the entire globe to see the Kohola frolic and play in our warm waters. If you want to see the whales up close, there are several whale-watching tours that guarantee a humpback sighting. For safety of the Kohola (and the sightseers!), all watercraft must stay at least 100 yards from any whale. But even at that distance, the power and grace of these gentle giants is incredibly impressive. If boats are not for you, their breaches can be seen from land. Bring a pair of binoculars with you when you visit, if you get lucky you may even get to see one spout!
Save Our Whales
Although the Kohola once roamed the seas in high number, decades of whaling and fishing has depleted their population. Now, the Endangered Species Act protect whales from hunting, harm, or disturbance. In the early 90s, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was established to help protect these beautiful creatures and their habitat. This sanctuary extends from the shoreline to a depth of 600 feet. If you come visit, please treat the Islands and oceans with the same respect that you would treat your own home. Mahalo.
Photo courtesy of Ronald Lundberg