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The Hawaiian Islands were formed during the last few million years by the gradual accretion of basaltic lava flows. Scientists believe that the islands' geologic features were formed by successive periods of volcanic activity interspersed with submergence, weathering, and fluctuating sea levels. The islands are generally surrounded by coral reefs and contain numerous bays.

Today the waters around the main Hawaiian Islands of Kauai, Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kaho'olawe constitute one of the world's most important North Pacific humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) habitats and the only place in the U.S. where humpbacks reproduce. Scientists estimate that two-thirds of the entire North Pacific humpback whale population (approximately 4000-5000 whales) migrate to Hawaiian waters to engage in breeding, calving and nursing activities.

One area, Penguin Banks, is noted for highest concentrations of humpback whales during their winter sojourns in Hawaii. While in Hawaii, Humpback Whales are found in shallow coastal waters, usually less then 100 meters (300 feet). The average water depth in Penguin Banks is about 60 meters, but water depths can range from 50 meters to 200 meters. Observations from research subs at Penguin Banks and in other sanctuary areas have indicated that the seafloor is composed primarily of sand with occasional outcrops of coarse sediment, limestone talus, limestone holes, and platforms.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary's primary focus is the giant cetaceans who come to sanctuary water to breed, calve and nurse their young before returning north to the colder waters of the Bering Sea. However, Hawaii also provides harbor for fin, minke, pygmy, false killer, and right whales; and the warm waters teem with many species of dolphin including bottlenose, spinner, striped and rough-toothed. Sea turtles, sharks, monk seals, a thriving coral reef ecosystem, and diverse populations of seabirds are other important elements of Hawaii's marine environment.

The marine waters around the Hawaiian islands contain a variety of cultural riches of national significance--settlement patterns and resource management patterns as well as historical treasures--archeological sites, fishponds, and shipwrecks. Over the ages, Native Hawaiians have used the ocean for fishing, aquaculture, trade, transportation, and communication as well as religious practices, and its role in Hawaiian life cannot be underestimated.

Cool ocean currents and persistent northeasterly trade winds contribute a subtropical climate to the islands. The average wind velocity is between 10 and 20 knots, but velocities over 20 kt for more than a week are not uncommon. Occasionally, periods of southerly, or kona, winds may bring storms. Ocean temperatures are lower than other areas of the same latitude and range from 21° C to 29°C.

The photo gallery contains images which portray only a small portion of the living and physical resources of the sanctuary. In addition, it portrays some of the major uses of the sanctuary. For a more detailed description of the marvels of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, visit the
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary description on the Marine Sanctuaries section of this site.


The Collection

The Living Sanctuary presents 17 photos depicting marine mammals, fish, and invertebrates. Among these images are humpback whales, monk seals, dolphin, corals, crabs, shrimp,and urchins to name just a few.

Habitats presents 10 photos depicting the various marine and near shore habitats making up the sanctuary. Included in this section you will find tidepools, coral reefs, an underwater crater, and other representatives of the diverse habitat making up the sanctuary.

People and the Sanctuary presents 20 images depicting the many ways that human beings use the sanctuary and its adjacent areas. You will see people recreating, researching, monitoring, harvesting resources, and learning the important lessons that the sanctuary has to offer.

The Sustainable Seas Expeditions photos from the January 2000 expedition are unavailable.

The Kids Gallery for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary contains two poems and an essay about Sylvia Earle, leader of the Sustainable Seas Expeditions, from children in Hawaii.


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