18 Really Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know About Humpback Whales

It’s humpback season in Hawai‘i and, while you know these whales are great singers and love to breach, we bet you didn’t know these other interesting facts.
Photo: Thinkstock


Every year around this time, thousands of humpback whales make their way to Hawaiian waters. Though they arrived a little later than usual this year, preliminary numbers for O‘ahu show the same average number of whales per 15-minute period as last January. Here are some facts you might not know about the majestic creatures:


1. They prefer Hawaiian waters.

There are more than 21,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific. More than 10,000 come to Hawai‘i in the winter to breed, with others heading to western Mexico and southern Japan.


2. Slow and steady wins the race.

Though they only travel three to seven miles per hour, humpbacks rarely stop, traveling as far as 3,000 miles during the spring and summer feeding seasons.


3. They have their own sanctuary.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, created in 1992, is the only sanctuary in the U.S. dedicated to a single species. Hawai‘i is also the only state where whales mate, calve and nurse their young.


4. You can count whales for science.

You can assist the sanctuary in its Ocean Count project every last Saturday of January, February and March by monitoring whale behavior at locations across the state. This month’s count takes place Feb. 27; next month’s is March 26. Register online.


5. They have favorite hangouts.

The top four O‘ahu shorelines from which to see whales are Makapu‘u Lighthouse, Hālona Blowhole, Hanauma Bay and Diamond Head Scenic Lookout.


6. They’re crafty.



One method of feeding, called bubble net fishing, requires whales work together to herd fish into the center of their group by blowing bubbles. Watch how they master this in the video above.


7. You can drink in their honor.

Mehana Brewing Co. named a beer after these gentle giants. Get the Humpback Island Lager wherever Mehana is sold. P.S., it pairs well with sushi.


8. And drink some more.

Koholā, the Hawaiian word for humpback whale, is also the name of a brewery on Maui.


9. They can hold their breath for almost an hour.

Though adult humpbacks can remain underwater for up to 45 minutes, they usually come up to breathe every 10 or 15 minutes. Calves come up every three to five minutes.


10. Dinosaurs sound a lot like whales.



In Jurassic World, the Indominus rex’s sounds were made from recordings of many animals, including lions, walruses, pigs, monkeys, dolphins and whales. Whale exhalations were also used as breathing sounds in the original Jurassic Park.


11. Whales make good spies.

A “spy hop” is when a whale rises with its head straight out of the water, possibly to look around at what’s going on above water.


12. Whales once had knees.

Humpbacks and other whales descended from land mammals, making the final transition to modern whales 34 million years ago. There are more than a thousand skeletons of prehistoric whales, some with knees, ankles and toes, in the Wadi Al-Hitan desert of Egypt, also known as Valley of the Whales.


13. Dead whales make mini cities.

A “whale fall” is the sunken carcass of a dead whale that supports the ecosystem by creating a community of organisms, from scavengers to bacteria, that can live off of it for decades, possibly up to 100 years.


14. We return them home.

Beached whales in Hawai‘i are often cremated, followed by a traditional Hawaiian ceremony. Their ashes are then returned to the sea.


15. No teeth, no problem.

Humpback whales have two blowholes, while toothed whales only have one. (Humpback whales have baleen, not teeth.)


16. Male humpbacks do all the singing.



Female humpback whales don’t sing—at least, they’ve never been seen or heard singing. But they do dance, as seen in the video above.


17. They’re mammals.

Humpbacks, like all mammals, have hair. It comes out of their tubercles, which are the bumps on their heads and jaws.


18. You can’t touch them.

It’s illegal to approach humpback whales in Hawai‘i within 100 yards.