Humpback whales have not arrived in Hawaii this winter. Experts are baffled by the mysterious absence of these iconic animals.
Humpback whales usually arrive in the Hawaiian Islands in the month of December, but this time around they have not been spotted in the region so far.
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Every winter, an estimated 10,000 humpback whales travel from Alaska to Hawaii for mating and giving birth and they usually spend November through May in the warm waters off the island. But officials at Humpback Whale Marina Sanctuary are perplexed at the mysterious absence of the giant animal. According to sanctuary, the iconic whale is slow to return this year and very few have been seen in the season so far.
“This isn’t a concern but it’s of interest. One theory was that something like this happened as whales increased. It’s a product of their success." Ed Lyman, a Maui-based marine biologist and response coordinator of the sanctuary told West Hawaii Today.
“Even though there are no formal surveys in December, the numbers clearly are down…We’ve just seen a handful of whales.”
Humpback whales are eagerly awaited in the Hawaiian Islands from December through March as they are considered not only an integral part of Hawaii's winter, but attract thousands of visitors and are a significant source of income for tour operators as well.
The whale population is not counted yet as annual count does not take place until the last Saturday of January, February and March. Nevertheless, the first whale of the season was spotted in late September by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) vessel but why all the rest are late to arrive in Hawaii?
The exact reason of their absence is still unknown, but Lyman says it could mean they are spending more time feeding in Northern waters, possibly because of El Nino disruptions or because their population has increased considerably.
“With more animals, they’re competing against each other for that food resource and it takes an energy of reserve to make that long migration over 2,000 miles.” Lyman said.
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Humpback whales are listed as Least Concerned species under IUCN. Today, their population is estimated at 80,000 but previously, they were at the brink of extinction due to excessive hunting, collisions with ships and pollution. Since mid 19th century, large population of humpback whales have been observed Hawaiian Island every winter.