Humpback whales return to Hawaii: Ocean users reminded to maintain safe distance

  • NOAA photo

    Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary officials remind boaters to keep within 100 yards of the whales.

NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary reminds the public that Hawaii’s humpback whale season is underway.

Although the number can vary from year to year, scientists estimate that as many as 12,000 humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Alaska to breed, calve and nurse their young in Hawaii’s warm waters. While some whales already have arrived, the majority will be in Hawaii between January and March.


Hawaii’s iconic humpback whales are protected by state and federal agencies. Approaching humpback whales when on or in the water within 100 yards or within 1,000 feet by air is illegal.

“Collisions between whales and vessels occur annually, presenting serious risks to boaters as well as the whales,” said Edward Lyman, large whale entanglement response coordinator for the sanctuary. “Whale calves are particularly vulnerable because they are difficult to see and surface more often.”

Humpbacks also can get entangled in fishing gear, which can result in starvation, physical trauma and infections, and can contribute to vessel strikes since the animals are less mobile.

The Hawaiian Islands Large Whale Entanglement Response Network, a community-based effort led by the sanctuary, supports large whale response efforts statewide. The network involves many state and federal agencies, including Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Regional Office and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as private nongovernmental organizations, fishermen, researchers and others.

Humpback hotlines


If you see an injured or entangled marine mammal, keep a safe and legal distance and call NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding and Entanglement Hotline at 888-256-9840 or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 immediately. If you are reporting a vessel coming too close to a whale, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964 or email

Additional guidelines and safety tips can be found at