Cruise Hump­back Whale Ter­ri­tory

101 Things to Do (Big Island) - - IT’S A BIG, BIG ISLAND -

Any­one who climbs aboard a ves­sel this time of year and heads for the open ocean off Hawai‘i Is­land can ex­pect to see hump­back whales. There are so many of them that most boat com­pa­nies don’t hes­i­tate to guar­an­tee sight­ings.

(Truth is, it’s hard to miss a 40-ton hump­back when it pro­pels its 45-foot bulk to the sur­face and then dis­ap­pears in an enor­mous salt­wa­ter splash!)

Ev­ery year, hump­back whales swim 3,000 miles from their sum­mer feed­ing grounds in Alaska to mate and calve in Hawai‘i’s clear, warm wa­ters. The whales don’t ar­rive en masse—this year’s first re­ported sight­ing oc­curred on Aug. 30, 2012, off the Big Is­land’s Kona Coast—but re­searchers say there is a pre­dictable or­der to their ap­pear­ance in our wa­ters. Pro­tected un­der en­dan­gered species laws, the hump­back pop­u­la­tion is grow­ing. An es­ti­mated 7,000 to 10,000 hump­backs are ex­pected to cruise through Hawai‘i’s wa­ters this sea­son, coming and go­ing at their own pace. Gen­er­ally, num­bers peak in late De­cem­ber through mid-April.

Though the hump­backs are the sea­sonal stars of the show, the wa­ters off this is­land are home to sub­stan­tial pop­u­la­tions of low­er­pro­file whales that are here year-round and equally in­trigu­ing to ob­serve, like the false killer whale, pi­lot whale, pygmy whale, beaked whale, melon-headed whale and even the sperm whale.

There are many ways to ob­serve a hump­back whale in the wild. Snorkel cruises are a good bet. Pow­ered rafts and fish­ing boats also travel hump­back ter­ri­tory. Kailua Bay Char­ter Co. of­fers ex­clu­sive char­ters aboard its shal­low draft glass-bot­tom boat. For a flat rate, groups of up to 24 pas­sen­gers can view the reef and ocean depths of the Kona Coast, (where hump­backs abound in the win­ter months), be­fore jump­ing off the deep end to ex­plore the wa­ters first­hand. Guests can bring snacks, food and spir­its; the crew sup­plies ev­ery­thing else.

Or spend qual­ity time with th­ese gen­tle giants on a tour with Cap­tain Dan McSweeney, prin­ci­ple whale re­searcher here on the Big Is­land who has de­voted most of his adult life to help­ing the en­dan­gered Pa­cific hump­backs re­bound in num­bers.

Two good shore­line view­ing sites are La­pakahi State His­tor­i­cal Park, north of Kawai­hae at mile marker 14, and Kapa‘a Beach Park off High­way 270. Trav­el­ing north, turn left on the one-lane paved road just past mile marker 16.

• Ad­ven­ture X Raft­ing (808) 937-7245 • Blue Sea Cruises (808) 331-8875 • Body Glove Cruises (800) 551-8911 • Cap­tain Zo­diac Raft Ex­pe­di­tions (808) 329-3199 • Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watch (808) 322-0028 • Dol­phin Dis­cov­er­ies (808) 322-8000 • Fair Wind Cruises (808) 345-0244 • Hana­mana (808) 936-5855 • Kailua Bay Char­ter Co. (808) 324-1749 • Ka­manu Char­ters (808) 329-2021 • Kona Boat Rentals (808) 326-9155 • Lava Ocean Ad­ven­tures (808) 966-4200 • Lava Roy’s Ocean Ad­ven­ture Tours (808) 883-1122 • Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii (808) 325-1687 • Nep­tune Charlies Ocean Sa­faris (808) 331-2184

• Ocean Eco Tours (808) 324-7873 • Sea Quest (808) 329-7238 • Splasher’s Ocean Ad­ven­tures (808) 326-4774 • Sun­Light on Water (808) 270-8765

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