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30th anniversary of Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

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Courtesy E. Lyman – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 774-1714

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

Designated in November of 1992, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is one of the world’s most important whale habitats, and the only place in the United States where humpback whales mate, calve, and nurse their young. 

And November marks Ho‘i Koholā, “welcome back whales” month.


November is the traditional start of the 2022-2023 whale season at the sanctuary. Humpback whales are generally seen in Hawai‘i from November into May each year, with the peak season running from January through March. 

“For thirty years, the sanctuary has worked with partners to protect our humpback whales, or nā koholā, through education, research, and entanglement response,” said Kim Hum, sanctuary superintendent. “We are excited to join the community in welcoming nā koholā back to the islands.”

A few early sightings of humpbacks have been reported in recent weeks. Greater numbers of whales are anticipated to return later this month. In preparation for the return of humpbacks to Hawaiʻi, the sanctuary offers some reminders.

Courtesy R. Finn – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 15240

Go Slow: Whales Below


Mariners are asked to keep a lookout and practice whale etiquette when whales are present in Hawaiian waters from November through May. It is illegal to approach a humpback whale closer than 100 yards by any means by sea or drone and closer than 1,000 feet by aircraft.

Statistics show that collisions with whales are greatly reduced when boaters maintain a speed of 15 knots or less. So, during whale season, especially in water depths of 100 fathoms or less, it is recommended that boaters maintain a speed of 15 knots or less to reduce your risk of striking a whale.

Revised recommendations for best boating practices around whales were announced jointly by the sanctuary and the State of Hawaiʻi and can be found at: https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/dobor/boating-with-whales/


Additional wildlife viewing guidelines, safety tips, and hotlines can be found at https://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov/visit/recreation.html.

Courtesy E. Lyman – HIHWNMS/ NOAA Permit # 14682

Reporting an issue

If you see an injured or entangled marine mammal, keep a safe and legal distance and call the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline at 888-256-9840 or the US Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 immediately.

To report a vessel coming too close to a whale, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at 800-853-1964, email respectwildlife@noaa.gov, or contact your local DOCARE office by phone, email, or on the DLNRTip app, which can be found at https://dlnr.hawaii.gov/blog/2020/07/09/nr20-097/

Webinar, Nov. 9

The sanctuary will host a virtual pre-whale season webinar on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. HI time. Register at: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2832302797236597004 

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary works to protect humpback whales and their habitat through research, education, conservation, and stewardship. The sanctuary is administered by a partnership of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawaiʻi through the Division of Aquatic Resources. The sanctuary is part of the National Marine Sanctuary System, celebrating 50 years of marine protection.


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