Heaven the humpback whale

The Story of Heaven

Heaven is a humpback whale of the North Pacific. This whale was named by Nicole Busse.

One of the most exciting things about Heaven is that this whale has been seen in Hawaii on two occasions—with twenty years between each sighting! It's a surprising and wonderful story.

Heaven was first sighted on April 13, 1989 in the Au'au Channel, which is located between the islands of Maui and Lanai. The Hawaiian word au'au' means 'to take a bath'which refers to the generally calm, bath-like conditions of this area. The channel is so calm, because it is surrounded by four islands: Maui to the east, Lanai to the west, Moloka'i to the north, and Kaho'olawe to the south. The channel isn't very deep. It reaches about 108 feet deep. It spans only about nine miles between Maui and Lanai.

Each winter, the Au'Au Channel is home to many humpback whales, which migrate approximately 3,500 miles from Alaska, to mate, give birth and care for their young. Some of the greatest concentrations of whales in Hawaii are found in the Au'Au Channel. Back in the days of the whaling ships, the middle of this channel was known as Lahaina Roads. Today, it is one of the most popular whalewatch areas in all of Hawaii.

When our researchers first sighted Heaven, this whale was in a pod with a mother and calf, plus two other whales. Humpback whales tend to be relatively solitary animals; the most commonly sighted pod size of humpback whales is a singleton pod, or a single animal. You can imagine how thrilled our researchers were to encounter five whales together at once! The researchers theorized that the three adult whales that were near the mother and calf were males. Because female humpback whales can ovulate soon after giving birth, male whales will join the mother and calf pod as 'escorts'—presumably to have the opportunity to mate with her. These escort whales do not form long-term social bonds with each other or the female. Most associations between humpback whales (other than the association between a mother and calf) last for just a few hours or less.

Our researchers were able to obtain GPS coordinates of the whales'location. It was at 20 47' 31.56' N, 156 36' 44.91' W. You can view that location on the enclosed map. They were also able to photograph the underside of Heaven's tail (an area known as the whales' flukes). These fluke photos allow us to identify individual whales. If you look carefully at the fluke identification photo of Heaven on your adoption certificate, you'll see the unique pigmentation patterns and distinctive shape. that make it possible to identify Heaven.

We did not see Heaven for twenty years. But one day we had a fantastic surprise! Karen Crowe of British Columbia had taken a photograph of a humpback whale in front of Molokini Marine Preserve, while she was on a cruise aboard our vessel Ocean Intrigue. (Molokini is a u-shaped volcanic remnant that's about 3 miles off the coast of Maui. It's home to a remarkable coral reef.) Karen submitted her whale photo to Pacific Whale Foundation's 2009 Whale Photo Contest and won 'Best Overall Photo.'

In addition to being a beautiful picture, the photo clearly showed the whale's flukes. One of our researchers decided to see if there was a match between this whale and other whales we had identified in the past. She was pleasantly surprised to discover that this very same whale had been identified 20 years ago! It was Heaven!

As a result, we know that Heaven is at least 20 years old. No one is sure how long a humpback whale may live, although scientists believe it could be as many as 70 or 80 years. Hopefully, we will be seeing Heaven again in the future, so that we many continue to learn about the life of this very special whale.

Sighting Map of Heaven

Heaven sighting map