Winter Whale Fights

One of the most exciting events to witness in Hawaii’s winter humpback whale season is the riveting sight of 8-10 giant males battling for the attention of a female humpback. These are the annual humpback “whale fights.”

The male humpback whales attempt to chase the female humpback as they line up in a row. Huge heads lunge up, while males relentlessly try to land head blows at each other. Breaching blows are permitted too. This is when a whale goes airborne in his attempt to dislodge a male that has attained a poll position next to the female. Whale tail blows are so intense that blood can be drawn.

“The ultimate goal is to get to the female at the front of this whale train. But the female humpback is the train conductor. She controls what direction they will go and she can also just take off with any suitor she chooses. She has the power to call off the “Whale Superbowl” mating game whenever she wants, though sometimes the players do not “hear the whistle.”

There have been times where a female has taken refuge under a boat to rest from the endless battle for her. And sometimes all the whales just stop, in an exhausted state, as if someone has called half time in the middle of the “Whale Superbowl.” And then almost instantly, like clockwork, they regain their composure and go full force back into the game. Once in a while you may see dolphins circling around the fight – speeding along with the hair-pin turn ability of an Indy racecar driver. Are they cheering the whales on? Every battle looks the same from a distance, but there are always different players with their own unique battle techniques.

Take a Na Pali boat trip this winter and see these incredible creatures up close. It is an awesome experience—one that could provide memories to last a lifetime. And please help protect the humpbacks by removing marine debris from beaches, supporting sanctions against illegal whaling and contributing to marine preservation research. Most boat captains are very aware and sensitive to the whale’s movements. Respect humpback whale approach regulations, they will get you nearby for great viewing.