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Don't Worry: The Whales Are Coming

pod of humpback whales breaching the surface
Humpback whales in the waters of Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Ben Richards/NOAA

You may have heard recently that humpback whales have "gone missing," or are "disappearing" from Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. But never fear! These majestic animals are on their way.

Each year, thousands of humpback whales migrate to Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to mate, calve, and nurse their young. The whales typically begin to show up in Hawaiian waters in November and some may remain there until May, with numbers peaking in February and March.

whale and calf just below the watar's surface
Photo: Ed Lyman/NOAA Permit # 774-1714

While fewer whales were seen this year in November and December, whales are now being observed daily in growing numbers in sanctuary waters. Sanctuary experts were out in the sanctuary earlier this week and saw a large number of whales off Maui; local tour operators have also reported seeing normal numbers of whales recently.

And, as Sanctuary Superintendent Malia Chow pointed out in a recent statement, "whales don’t have watches or calendars, so they might not exactly follow human expectations." She added that "this year’s arrivals appear to be in keeping with long-term historic observations." In recent years, whales have been arriving earlier than usual, so now this "normal" arrival may appear to some to be tardy.

So don’t worry: the whales are coming.

whale jumping out of the water
Photo: NOAA Fisheries Permit #782-1438

Plus, you can help the sanctuary keep tabs on these gentle giants by participating in the Ocean Count, a citizen science volunteer effort to count whales. The Ocean Count is held on the last Saturday of January, February and March. Learn more and register on the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary website.

volunteers watching for whale from the shore
Volunteers at a 2015 Ocean Count. Photo: Christine Crosby