Addison the humpback whale

Addison is a North Pacific humpback whale that was sighted by Pacific Whale Foundation’s researchers off the coast of Maui. Humpback whales live in all of the world’s major oceans. Scientists describe North Pacific humpback whales as those whales living in the Pacific Ocean, north of the equator.

Most of the North Pacific humpback whales spend their winters in three locations: Hawai‘i, western Mexico and the islands of southern Japan. As the weather becomes warmer, the whales migrate to their summer feeding areas, located between the coast of California north to the Bering Sea, including off the coast of Alaska.

The scientific name for all humpback whales is "Megaptera novaeangliae" which means "great wings of New England." The "great wings" refers to the humpback whale’s long flippers, or pectoral fins, which can measure 13 feet or more at adulthood. The second part of their name refers to New England, which is where naturalists first described these whales in the 1700s.

Addison was named by Pacific Whale Foundation supporter Nicole Busse of San Mateo, California. Last year, Nicole arranged to adopt and name a whale as a gift for her daughter Addison. That whale was named "Heaven." This year, Nicole decided to adopt and name a whale "Addison" as a gift for her son William.

Addison the humpback whale was sighted by Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team on February 2, 2010 about one mile from Maui’s Papawai Point. There’s a scenic lookout located at this point, where Maui residents and visitors often stop to view whales in the ocean below. It’s possible that Addison was viewed by some of these land-based whalewatchers!

North Pacific humpback whales migrate about 3,000 miles each year to reach Maui and the other islands of Hawai’i. In fact, Hawai’i is believed to contain the world’s largest seasonal population of North Pacific humpbacks. The whales travel here to mate, give birth and care for their young calves. They are generally in Hawai’i from November through mid-May, although some may arrive weeks or months earlier or depart later. February, the month when we saw Addison, is considered the peak of the whalewatch season here on Maui.

Addison was part of a group that included three other humpback whales! Some species of whales, such as orca whales, are known for the tightly knit social groups or pods that they form. Humpback whales are different. Based on the sightings reports gathered by our researchers and naturalists in the field, the most commonly sighted pod size for humpback whales is a singleton pod, a pod composed of a single animal. The next common pod size is the mother-calf pod.

Sightings of larger groups of humpback whales are not uncommon in Hawai’i during the winter, but most of these groups are only together for a short amount of time – usually a few hours or less, and generally for no more than a day. Our researchers described Addison’s group as a "surface active" pod, meaning the whales were engaging in active behaviors that were visible above the water. Our researchers saw multiple breaches and pectoral fin slaps.

If you’ve ever seen a breach, you’ll never forget it. This is a spectacular behavior in which the whale propels itself out of the water, generally clearing the surface with two-thirds of its body or more! As the whale rises above the water, it throws one pectoral fin out to the side and turns in the air about its longitudinal axis. It lands with a huge splash that can be seen for miles around.

A pectoral fin slap occurs when a whale brings its long flipper (pectoral fins) up into the air and then slams it against the ocean with a loud smack. The whale may be on its side, slapping one fin, or it may be on its back, slapping one or both of its pectoral fins onto the water. Some whales will repeat this behavior over and over.

Here’s a fascinating fact: the pectoral fins of humpback whales contain many of the bones that are found in our own arms and hands. In proportion to the overall length of the pectoral fin, the whale has a shorter upper arm (humerus) than that of humans. The whale also has shorter, thicker bones in its lower arm. Nearly half of the whale’s pectoral fin consists of the whale’s "finger bones" (the carpals, metacarpals and phalanges) – the same hand and finger bones found in humans.

What can we interpret from the behaviors of Addison’s pod? We don’t know why whales breach or pec slap, but judging by the active behaviors and the size of the pod led we can theorize that this was a competition pod, a group of males vying with each other to gain the closest position near a female. If this is the case, it is very possible that Addison is a male.

The photo that is on your adoption certificate is our "identification photo" of Addison. As you can see from the photo, Addison has very distinctive markings on its tail flukes. As we photograph whales in the field in the future, we will be comparing those new photos against the photos of identified whales like Addison. When one of our new photos matches the photo of Addison, it will confirm that we have "resighted" Addison. You, as the adopted parent of Addison, will be among the first to know when Addison is resighted. We look forward to seeing Addison in the future and sharing more of his story with you, as it is revealed to our research team.

Addison whale sightings