Between November and May, thousands of humpback whales migrate annually to the Hawaiian Islands. While residents and visitors alike enjoy viewing humpback whales in their natural habitat, it is important to remember that our presence can affect marine wildlife and habitat.
Marine mammals often engage in important social and behavioral activities that may not be apparent to a casual viewer. Approaching these animals too closely or too quickly may disrupt these behaviors and cause unnecessary stress. Do not attempt to touch, feed or swim with whales, dolphins, sea turtles or other marine wildlife as this could be dangerous for the animal and for you. Ship strikes and unsustainable tourism practices are among the major threats to whales and dolphins, as identified by PWF researchers and have been the subject of years of research.
Representatives from PWF, Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, DLNR-Division of Aquatic Resources, DNLR-Division of boating and Ocean Recreation, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, tour boat operators, such as PWF’s social enterprise PacWhale Eco-Adventures, and invested members of the community have worked on the set of recommendations to keep both whales and watchers safe.
Key recommendations resulting from the collaboration include:
• Speed limit of 15 knots or less, or minimal planing speed, within water 100 fathoms (600 ft) deep or less
• When approaching and departing whales, reduce vessel speed to six knots when within 400 yards
• Post a designated observer/lookout while underway
• Pay close attention to the time of day and time of year. Humpback whales begin to arrive in the waters of Maui Nui typically in October, with peak season being January, February, and March with a drop in numbers from April to May. The more whales that are in the water, the more likely disturbance or collision is to happen. Whales are here both day and night. When traveling at night, you might want to reduce your speed even further since your chance of seeing a whale visually is reduced.
These voluntary recommendations are in addition to official regulations:
• 100-yard approach limit to humpback whales
• No ‘leapfrogging’ or in other words, if you see a whale traveling, you are not allowed to intentionally enter its path so that they approach you
Read more about Go Slow, Whales Below in our blog post HERE.
For information on Be Dolphin Wise, click the dropdown for your area below.
Sea turtles are air-breathing reptiles. As it is illegal to harass them, enjoy them from a distance of at least 10 feet and do not block their path as they surface to breathe. Do not touch, feed or attempt to hold or ride a sea turtle.
Monk seals are a protected species. If you encounter one in the ocean, you should immediately move to a different location. Approaching or attempting to play or swim with them may alter their behavior and their ability to fend for themselves in the wild. Monk seals regularly haul out to rest on beaches and shores. If you see a monk seal on land, please stay at least 50 feet away (150 feet if there is a pup present). Report all sightings of monk seals on land to NOAA’s Marine Mammal Hotline: 1-888-256-9840.
Corals are delicate living organisms. Damaging just one square inch of coral could undo hundreds of years of growth. Refrain from standing on or kicking reefs as this can easily kill the coral. If you plan on going into the water, be sure to use reef-safe sunscreen only and apply at least 20 minutes prior to entering the water.
To report any injured, entangled, stranded or distressed marine life, call NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal (24-hour) Hotline: 1-888-256-9840. Please call immediately and do not attempt to help the animal yourself. Animals under stress can be unpredictable and dangerous.
To report violations of the 100-yard approach rule for humpback whales, or other human disturbance or harassment of marine life, call the NOAA Enforcement (24-hour) Hotline: 1-800-853-1964.
Aloha, We Are Open! Our PacWhale Eco-Adventures are open for booking as we welcome visitors back to Maui. Quarantine restrictions were lifted on Oct. 15th for those following the state’s pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requirements.