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Whales, Sharks and Seals in Hawaii

Humpback whale off Maui

Hawaiian waters host some of the most beautiful sea creatures on earth. From the colorful ecosystem of the thriving coral reef to the abundance of tropical fish, the seascapes in Hawaii are full of dynamic marine creatures. Among these are varies stunning sharks, whales and seals. Below are some interesting facts you may not have known about these unique animals.


Whale watching is such a popular pastime, that it is one of the top visitor activities in Hawaii. The island of Maui is one of the best places to witness a breaching whale. The town of Lahaina in Maui has a long history of whaling and was once considered the whaling capital of the world. In the heart of the town, the Whalers Village Museum is filled with antiques from this fascinating time period.

There are over a dozen whale species that live in Hawaiian waters; but the most commonly seen whale in Hawaii is the humpback whale. Humpback whales can grow to between 25 to 45 feet in length, weigh as much as 80,000 pounds and generally live between 40 to 50 years. These gentle giants are known for vocalizing patterns of melodious noises, which the whales sing in their mating areas and feeding grounds. Annually, over 10,000 humpback whales travel over 3,500 miles from Alaska to Hawaii from December to April to breed and then care of their offspring. Humpback whales carry their calves in the womb for almost a year before giving birth and the temperate waters of Hawaii make an ideal location for mating and giving birth.


The shark god in Hawaiian mythology is named Kamohoali’i. Images of sharks are depicted in tattoos or painted on guitars and ukuleles as symbols of the ‘aumakua, or the family protector and guardian spirit. There are 40 different kinds of sharks in Hawaii. The four most common sharks are the sandbar, white-tip reef, scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks. Whitetip reef sharks are rather small, seldom growing bigger than 5 feet. They can be crafty free-loaders, swimming alongside monk seals to steal their food. Sharks can get a tan. Hammerhead sharks have been known to drift along the ocean’s surface so that their body will grow darker and serve as a more effective camouflage.


The Hawaiian monk seal is rare endangered species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. There are believed to be less than 1,300 monk seals in existence.Monk seals get their name from the shape of their head, somewhat resembling the haircut of many Renaissance era monks. The Hawaiians call these creatures “ilio holo I ka uaua” which means dog running through rough water. Most monk seals in Hawaii live in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, feeding on the fish and invertebrates of the coral reefs nearby. The seals can dive down to 400 feet in search of food and can remain underwater as long as 20 minutes before they need to come up for air. The seals can grow up to 7 feet in length, weighing over 400 pounds and generally live between 25 to 30 years. Female Hawaiian monk seals are dedicated to the care of their young, nursing their young for up to 6 weeks without eating anything. Though they prefer areas where humans are not found, Hawaiian monk seals can sometimes be seen resting on uncrowded beaches.


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