The Story of Lindsay

Humpback Whale from Hawai'i

Congratulations! You have officially adopted the North Pacific humpback whale named Lindsay.

Humpback whales are the fifth largest whales in the world. On average, males reach about 43 feet in length; females are slightly larger and can grow to an average of 45 feet.

While their size is truly astounding, there are many other reasons why people are fascinated by humpback whales. These giant marine mammals are known for their long-distance migrations, which involve swimming thousands of miles.

Lindsay was sighted by Pacific Whale Foundation's team in Hawai'i, off the coast of Maui, during the winter of 2012. Based on data collected on thousands of other humpback whales like Lindsay, we believe that Lindsay spends summer in much cooler waters, most likely in the area that extends from Northern California to the coast of Alaska, by the Bering Sea. This means Lindsay traveled a tremendous distance—an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 miles—to migrate there from Hawaii. We do not know how long such a journey would take for Lindsay, but scientists believe that on average, the trip takes between 30 to 60 days.

Why would Lindsay and other humpback whales leave Hawaii’s warm waters to swim so far – to spend summer in chilly northern seas? The answer is simple: food. While humpback whales are huge, their throats are so small that they are unable to consume anything larger than a grapefruit. They also lack teeth. For those reasons, humpbacks feed primarily on small fish and tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans known as euphausiids, which live in large, dense numbers in cooler, nutrient rich waters. Hawaii’s warm waters do not sustain the abundance of this tiny prey that Lindsay needs to survive. For humpback whales, their time in Hawai'i is generally without food.

The summer months of June through September are the feeding season for Lindsay and other North Pacific humpback whales. During that time, the whales can consume up to a ton of food per day. The whales gain body fat during the feeding season, which is nature’s way of storing caloric energy for the winter ahead.

Starting in autumn, North Pacific humpback whales begin to migrate back to warm water areas. Not all of the whales make the migration. Some remain in the cool water feeding areas for the winter. And not all of the North Pacific humpback whales migrate to Hawaii. Other warm water destinations include the area off the coast of Baja California, the Revillagigedo and Socorro Islands off Mexico and the Bonin, Ryuku and Marina Islands, near Taiwan.

And again the question – why? The migration to warmer waters appears to be about reproduction. While in warm water areas during the winter, the humpback whales engage in behaviors linked to mating, giving birth and caring for their calves. The gestation period for humpback whales is 10 to 12 months, so that calves conceived during one winter are born the next.

When Pacific Whale Foundation sighted Lindsay in Hawai'i on January 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm, Lindsay was accompanied by one other whale, and was located in the ‘Au’Au Channel between the islands of Maui and Lana’i. This channel is only 8.8 miles wide and reaches only about 108 feet in depth. The translation of the Hawaiian word ‘Au’Au is “take a bath” which may refer to the shallow, calm waters of this area. Lindsay and the other humpback whale were about three miles from the town of Lahaina. They were “surface active” meaning that they were engaging in behaviors that could be observed above the surface of the sea. Surface active behaviors include breaching and slapping their tails and pectoral fins on the ocean.

Pacific Whale Foundation employee Jason Novello was able to take a photo of Lindsay’s tail flukes at a point when Lindsay was about to dive beneath the ocean. That photo, which appears on your adoption certificate, reveals the beautiful black and white natural pigmentation on Lindsay’s tail flukes that allow us to distinguish her from other humpback whales. It’s what we call Lindsay’s “i.d. photo” – the best way for us to identify Lindsay.

During this encounter, we were not able to get any clues about Lindsay’s gender. If our team had seen Lindsay in the company of a calf, we would have been able to identify Lindsay as a female (and a mom). If Lindsay had been underwater, engaged in singing – a behavior typically exhibited only by males during the winter breeding season – we would have determined Lindsay was male.

You can determine the whale's gender by looking at it's genital area, but whales don't always cooperate in providing a look. Although both genders have internal sex organs, the female’s genital slit is located in front of the anus and is separated by an anatomical feature known as a hemispherical lobe. The presence or absence of this lobe is used for gender determination in the field (if observed).

Our team will be gathering data on whales each winter, and hopes that one day, we will resight Lindsay off the coast of Maui. Future observations of this beautiful whale will help us piece together Lindsay’s life story.

Lindsay was named by Marshall and Sue Mortenson as a special gift for their daughter Lindsay Zetzsche. Although they are from Illinois, Marshall and Sue are frequent visitors to Maui. As they adopted and named Lindsay, the humpback whale from Hawai'i, they expressed their hope that one day their daughter Lindsay and her family will get to see the whale named in her honor in the wild.

We thank you for adopting Lindsay and supporting Pacific Whale Foundation's work to protect this whale and all marine wildlife through our science and advocacy programs.