Each year from December through April, anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 na kohola, or humpback whales, migrate over 3,500 miles to the warm tropical waters of Hawaii to breed, give birth, and nurse their calves. The 5th largest of the world’s great whales, the kohola can weigh up to 45 tons, approximately one ton per foot. At birth, calves range from 10-16 feet in length and weigh approximately 3,000 pounds. Research indicates the kohola have a 40-60 year life span.
Na kohola are called “humpbacks” because of their tendency to round their back while breaching. To Native Hawaiians, the kohola symbolizes the presence of Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god of ocean animals. Some believe the kohola is an aumakua, or family god, guardian or ancestor. As kohola are born and bred in the waters of Hawaii, they are considered kama’aina, or native born. For these reasons, Hawaiians traditionally treat humpback whales with reverence and respect.
Before their winter migration to warmer climates, the kohola summer in the cold waters of Alaska, Glacier Bay and California where they store up on food reserves, eating up to a ton of plankton and small schooling fish (like mackerel) per day. While in Hawaii, they don’t eat at all, focusing instead on their romantic Hawaiian vacation.
One way the kohola attract a mate is through their beautiful whale songs, which can last up to 30 minutes. These songs are haunting, lyrical and are believed to demonstrate male fitness to potential mates. When the kohola court one another, they slap the water with one of their fins, or sometimes they lie on their back, exposing their bellies, and alternate slapping between fins. They may also raise their heads to lie horizontally with the surface of the ocean, then drop back down under water without swimming forward.
The commercial whaling industry wiped out huge numbers of the once abundant humpback whale. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the kohola have begun rebuilding their numbers, though they remain listed as endangered. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary exists here on the Big Island to protect the kohola through education, research, and protective activities. Thankfully, you can join the humpback whale here for a Big Island romantic Hawaiian vacation.
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