Among humpback whales, mothers with calves are a particularly special group, especially in terms of conservation. Whale calves represent the next generation of an increasing population of humpback whales that will need our continued monitoring and stewardship. To study where they spend their time while here in Maui, our research department analyzed data collected by marine naturalists working aboard PacWhale Eco-Adventures using the Whale & Dolphin Tracker app.
From 2013 – 2017, naturalists used the app to record location and group information about humpback whales they encountered. This approach allowed the researchers to collect data more often and over a much larger area than possible with a single research vessel.

From these sightings, the research team found that pods of whales that contained calves prefer shallower waters than pods without calves. Pods with calves were also more likely to be seen farther south within the study area, implying that they show a more specific preference for waters near Ma‘alaea Bay and South Maui compared to similarly shallow areas in the Au‘au Channel.

Other scientists have reported humpback whale mother-calf pods showing preferences for shallow, protected areas in regions such as Brazil, Madagascar, and the Dominican Republic, but our researchers were the first to conduct a long-term study across the Maui four-island region. The North Pacific population of humpback whales is growing, so it’s important to know how these whales are using their habitats in order to effectively manage human activities.
The results of this study have been published in the Open Journal of Marine Science.