Kulia the humpback whale

The Story of Kulia

The name Kulia means "to reach" or "to strive for."

Kulia was sighted on New Year's Day by Pacific Whale Foundation's humpback whale research team. Our team included Annie Macie and Greg Kaufman, our founder and Executive Director. Annie and Greg were very happy to be spending New Year's Day in the company of whales. They launched their small inflatable research boat from Ma'alaea and traveled along the coast of West Maui, in the lee of the Papawai Mountains.

Kulia was sighted by Greg and Annie about four miles off the coast of Maui. They were off an area that local surfers call "Grandma's" which is located between Olowalu and Maalaea. This is an area that is known for excellent whale sightings during the winter months.

Judging by Kulia's size, we believe Kulia is an adult humpback whale. Kulia was in the company of four other adult humpback whales. The five whales were swimming slowly towards the southwest. The whales surfaced and then dove beneath the water, repeatedly. Our researchers observed the whales each repeat this behavior, up to three times by each whale.

Whenever our research team encounters whales in the wild, things get very busy! One of the researchers notes the GPS coordinates of the whales and takes careful notes about the whales' pod composition, behaviors and directions of movement. Another researcher will take photographs of the whales, attempting to get as many clear photos as possible of each whale's dorsal fin and the underside of its tail (an area known as the whales' flukes). These photos allow us to identify individual whales. If you look carefully at the fluke identification photo of Kulia on your adoption certificate, you'll see how Kulia's tail has pigmentation patterns and a distinctive shape. If you click here, you can see the dorsal fin photo of Kulia. If you make the photo as large as possible, you'll see the shapes on the trailing edge of the dorsal fin as well as some distinctive pigmentation patterns. This lets us identify Kulia.

Our researchers were not able to determine if your whale was a male or female. The only visible outer difference between males and females is the presence of a bump called the "hemispherical lobe" on the underside of females. Because it's difficult to get a good look at a whale's underside, our researchers often determine a whale's gender by its behaviors. For example, a solitary adult whale accompanied by a calf is most likely a female. Pulama's behavior did not allow us to determine whether this whale is a male or female.

Unlike orca and other toothed whales, which are often found in large social groups, humpback whales are relatively solitary and do not form long term social bonds (except for female humpback whales who will remain with their calves for up to a year). Most other associations between humpback whales last for just a few hours or less. When we view groups of four or more whales, it typically includes males and a potentially receptive female. The males often engage in intense pushing and shoving to obtain the closest position to the female. Surprisingly, we did not see any competition pod behavior with Kulia and the four other whales in the group.

Back at the research lab, our research team compared the January 1 photos of Kulia with photos of other individual humpback whales that we've identified in the past in Hawaii. Our team had never seen Kulia before! As a result, we're putting Kulia's photo in our catalog of individually identified humpback whales from Hawaii. In the future, we'll be comparing all of the new whale photos that our researchers gather against this catalog of identified humpback whales, to determine if we are "resighting" any of the whales. We are very hopeful that we will see Kulia again and again. Each time that we encounter Kulia we will be able to learn more about this special whale's life.

Kulia Sighting Map

Kulia sighting map