Tag Archive | humpback whales

Mrs. Weidman’s 2nd graders in Effingham, IL want to know about Hawaii

One of the highlights of our recent U.S. road trip was stopping at my cousin Elaine’s in Effingham, IL.  Her grandson, Keegan, a 2nd grader, is in an elementary school that has  for the past 28 years been doing a unit on Hawaii.


Keegan in Casey, IL – “A Small Town with a Big Heart”

Since Barry and I were going to be in town, we were invited to answer their questions about our island home.


1) Since it is so far away from the rest of the United States, why is Hawaii a state?

Hawaii is far away from Mainland U.S. A. – that is true.

  • From California to Hawaii is 2,471 miles.
  • From Japan to Hawaii is 4,980 miles away.

Before it was a U.S. possession, Hawaii was an independent country.   However on Jan. 17, 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown by a group of U.S. businessmen and sugar planters (who wanted to make more money).  With the help of U.S. military, the business people forced Queen Liliuokalani, the Queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, to abdicate.  She give up her rights and kingdom although she was the rightful leader. She didn’t want her people killed.


Queen Liliuokalani

Two years later, Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory and eventual admitted in 1959 as the 50th state in the union.

2) What races live in Hawaii?

  • The state’s overall racial breakdown: white, 22.7%; black or African American, 1.5%; American Indian and Alaska Native, 0.2%; Asian, 37.7%; Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 9.4%. The Hispanic or Latino population, of any race, was 8.9%.

Ohana – family in Hawaii

3) Have you seen a volcano erupt?

  • Yes, on the Big Island of Hawaii many years ago, Barry and I saw a volcano erupting!
  • Lava and steam have been coming up in various places on the Big Island for many years. Johnny and Sigrid were just there in February and were right by extremely hot, slowly flowing lava.
  • On Maui, we have two volcanoes – one extinct (dead) and one dormant (sleeping), so we don’t have lava flows now.
  • The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanoes.

Types of lava flows – from: <http://www.sandatlas.org/types-lava-flows/&gt;

Big Island Kilauea Volcano

Go to this link to see molten lava:

<https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2015/aug/28/lava-hawaiis-kilauea-volcano-video?subject=Big Island Volcano>

4) What are the black sand beaches like?

  • Black sand is hot – very hot when the noon sun shines upon it.
  • The dark color absorbs the sunlight, so if your feet are bare, you have to run really quickly to get into the water.
  • That sand is black because it is fine particles of volcanic rock.
  • Most sand in Hawaii is silicon dioxide (quartz) that is white or whitish yellow; it has been broken down from rocks and minerals by wind, rain and freezing/thawing cycles into smaller grains. In a few places, the sand is red.
  • Also, sea creatures such as the parrot fish chew up minerals and leave sand behind.

Green sea turtle – you can find them in shallow waters

5) What is the weather like?

  • Nice   – highs are around 87 degrees in June, July, and August and lows of about 64 degrees are in January and February.
  • Because temperatures drop about 3.2F (1.3C) every 1,000 feet (305m), the summit of Haleakala is roughly 32F (13C) cooler than the beaches.
  • Rainfall is low in Kihei (10 inches a year), but on the east of Maui, is Hana, a rain forest (400 inches a year).
  • Hawaii is called a “tropical paradise” because its climate makes people feel comfortable almost every day of the year.

6) Are there a lot of shark sightings?

  • No. Sharks do live in the ocean, but they aren’t often seen here in Hawaii.  One thousand miles south of the Hawaiian Islands, in the Palmyra Atoll, however, there are about 20 sharks every half mile.  So it depends where you are what sea life you’ll find.
  • About three shark attacks occur per year in Hawaii. Few shark attacks are fatal.  Sharks do not have very good eyesight, so it is best to stay out of the ocean at dawn, dusk, or at times when the water is murky.  Sharks are looking for turtles to eat – not humans.
  • The Hawaii shark attack rate is surprisingly low considering the thousands of people who swim, surf, and dive in Hawaiian waters every day.
  • The most frequently encountered Hawaiian reef sharks are the White Tipped Reef Shark, Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Tiger Shark, Galapagos Shark, Gray Reef Shark, and the Sandbar Shark.

7) Do people really do the hula?



  • Yes, the men and women – and children – dance hula. The Hawaiians have a powerful dance, music, and chant culture!

8) How is Christmas celebrated in Hawaii?

  • Over half the people in Hawaii practice Christianity.
  • Of those, 18.74% are Catholic; 5.24% are LDS; 3.91% are another Christian faith; 0.06% in Hawaii are Jewish; 5.14% are an eastern faith; 0.05% Islam.
  • Barry and I have a Christmas tree, church services, and celebrations with our families.   Because the weather is warm, we take food and spend our Christmas Day at the beach with our friends and family.
  • Because we live in Hawaii, we get to enjoy and experience other cultures and religions that our friends and neighbors practice.

On Maui – Santa arrives by canoe


9) Are there any interesting animals on Maui?

  • Yes. Many – many – especially sea creatures.
  • My favorite one? Humpback whales that come to Hawaii from about December through February.

Humpback Whale – breaching.  Scientists still have much to learn about whales.

Humpback Whale Facts:

  • Whales are mammals: breathe air, warm blooded, live birth, have hair, & mom’s produce milk.
  • Fifty-eight million years ago, whales were land animals.  But there was global warming and less land and food, so the whales evolved back into sea creatures.
  • Their trip from Alaska to Hawaii (and then back to Alaska) takes whales 5 to 7 weeks at 3 to 8 miles per hour – each way!  It’s about 3,000 miles they swim to give birth and mate in our shallow, sandy bottom, warm water.
  • A whale calf is 15 foot at birth and drinks about 120 pounds of milk per day.
  • Because their throats are about the size of a grapefruit, the Humpback whales don’t eat for about four months here because our fish are too big.  The whales have to wait until they get back to Alaska where there is krill,  small shrimp and other small cold water fish for them to eat!
  • All whales vocalize, but the males “sing.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo2bVbDtiX8
  • Life span: 40-80 years
  • Length: 35-45 feet
  • Weight 35-45 tons ( 1 ton = 2,000 pounds)
  • Importance of whales to microscopic beings: Scientists report that when whales feed, often at great depths, and then return to the surface to breathe, they mix up the water column. That spreads nutrients and microorganisms through different marine zones, which can lead to feeding bonanzas for other creatures.
  • And the materials in whale urine and excrement, especially iron and nitrogen, serve as effective fertilizers for plankton.

Come visit us to see other animals, birds, and sea life.

10) Do you have turtles in Hawaii?

  • Two kinds you’ll find in Hawaii (among others) are the Green Sea turtle and the endangered Hawksbill.
  • At Ho’okipa Beach on Maui, you can sometimes see 25 or more turtles, big and small, basking – resting and warming up – on shore every afternoon.
  • Thirty years ago, basking seldom happened. But now, turtles are protected. It’s against the law to eat them.

Some turtles can weigh 300 pounds





Basking turtles at Ho’okipa Beach Park


Waiting for the excavation of a Hawksbill turtle nest. Because the Hawksbills are very endangered, volunteers guard their nests from dogs, mongoose, other people . . . If the turtles don’t hatch in a timely way, scientists come to help them get out to the ocean.


Hawksbill turtles emerging from their nest.  Each is about the size of a U.S. quarter.

We have other much more common animals:


Lovebirds come to our bird feeder every day.


Mango is a myna bird that Johnny rescued when she fell from her nest.

11) What can you do for fun?


Windsurf on Maui


Watch what the locals do before you jump.


You can surf, kite sail, windsurf, swim, canoe, . . . in the Pacific Ocean.


Hike to waterfalls


Watch for rainbows.  See the faint second one here?


Look for beautiful plants and flowers


See sunflowers growing on Maui – an experiment to see what can replace the sugar cane that has been growing here for about 140 years.


Learn how to climb a coconut tree – and make coconut milk and coconut cookies.

And of course, you must come paddle Hawaiian outrigger canoe with me.  Kihei Canoe Club has visitor paddle every Tuesday and Thursday.  Be on the beach by 7:15 am.  You will learn the basics of paddling, hear a bit of Hawaiian culture (especially if Uncle Kimokea is there), and get to be on the ocean with experienced paddlers.  We never know what we will see.   http://www.kiheicanoeclub.com/


As for our time in Effingham, Barry and I had a very good time meeting Keegan’s classmates and teachers – and answering their excellent questions.


Keegan’s classmates in Effingham, IL


Cousin Elaine brought juice and made “Hawaiian” cookies with macadamia nuts and coconuts.  We all had a good time.

Of course, there is much more to say about the Hawaiian Islands.  Come visit and see for yourself.

Aloha, Renée


Nalu and Kailani looking for adventure. You come too.










Hawaii for Keegan417




Maui Surprises: Whales at Dawn

Even before dawn, the ocean is beautiful.  Paddling in a six-person outrigger canoe, as I do, I ‘m often in a boat to see the sun rise over Haleakala.  Now that it is whale season, we sometimes get to see humpbacks too.

Before dawn- clouds over Haleakala

Before dawn- clouds over Haleakala

Before dawn from the canoes

View from the canoes

Off our bow- a whale

Off our bow- a whale

Although endangered, humpbacks can be found in all  oceans, and they migrate annually from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters closer to the Equator.  Our humpback whales come to Hawaii during the winter months to give birth and mate before making the journey back to Alaskan waters, about a 6,000 mile round-trip, about 30 days each way.

According to Earth Trust, humpback whales feed only during the summer months when they are in cold, nutrient rich waters. Opening their mouths bring in about 500 gallons of water at a time.  They have no teeth, but their baleen plates serve as a strainer to filter out small fish such as herring and mackerel.  They consume 2,000 to 9,000 pounds of fish and krill a day!  Approximately 25% of what they eat during the summer is stored as blubber and used for energy and insulation for the winter–when they come to Hawaii.  They can lose one-third their weight before they eat again! (<http://earthtrust.org/wlcurric/whales.html&gt;).

The Maui News (2/1/13) reports, “NOAA’s last official full whale survey six years ago found 10,000 whales in Hawaiian waters, with the numbers growing.”

It’s illegal to chase whales or to approach within 100 yards (the length of a football field); however, we can let them come up near us.   Adult humpbacks grow to 38-48 feet long and weigh about a ton a foot—so although they are gentle giants, I get nervous when we are really close.  It’s thrilling, actually.

Waiting for whales

Waiting for whales

We hold our paddles up when we are close to a whale so that vacationing condo dwellers with binoculars don’t report us to the Coast Guard for chasing whales.


Sun peeking through the clouds over Haleakala

Humpback whales become reproductively mature between 4 and 8 years old. Gestation is  eleven to twelve months, so  when she returns to Hawaii,  the mother gives birth to a single calf, which is  approximately 13 feet long and two tons! The mother feeds her newborn about 100 pounds of milk, which is 55% fat, each day.

NOAA says, “Underwater nursing poses unique challenges, which are overcome in a number of ways. First, nursing occurs in short bursts. Second, the mammary gland is triggered by direct pressure, so the calf can insert a rolled tongue into the mammary gland and trigger the flow of milk. Third, the consistency of the milk is thick, and much closer to what we would call yogurt, this helps the milk stay together rather than dispersing into the surrounding water”<http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/ABL/Humpback/AboutHumpbacks.htm&gt;.

The humpbacks get their name from their arched back.

The humpbacks get their name from their arched backs.

Mom and calf

Mom and calf

The calf nurses for five to seven months until  back in nutrient-rich waters of the North; then the calf is weaned. By then, the calf has doubled its length and has increased its weight five times to about 27 feet and 10 tons. It will continue growing until about ten years old.  Usually, a female humpback will bear one calf every two or three years, which is one reason they are an endangered species.   Although no one yet knows for certain,  the average life span of humpbacks in the wild is estimated to be between 30 and 40 years.

Humpback whale--they are the size of a bus!  From :

A humpback whale is  the size of a bus! From : <http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/humpback-whale/&gt;

A pectorial fin  - with the windmill farm on the West Maui Mountains in the background.*

A pectoral fin – with the windmill farm on the West Maui Mountains in the background.

Pectoral fins

Pectoral fins

The pectoral fin of the humpback can be one-third its body length.

The pectoral fin of the humpback can be one-third its body length.

Fishermen tell about the fish that got away.  This is my photo of the calf that had just breached--jumping up and splashing down.  We think it had just nursed and was feeling good!

Fishermen tell about the fish that got away. This is my photo of the calf that had just breached–jumping up with 2/3 of its body out of the water and splashing down. We think it had just nursed and was feeling good!

Last Thursday going out  even earlier than normal, we were on the water at 5:30am in the dark with a cloud-covered sky, so we didn’t even have starlight.  We came up upon a whale that may have been sleeping.  The first indication was when we heard it breathe.  We were so close I could have touched it with my paddle!   That’s too close.  Remember even the newborns are at least two tons.

Perhaps a wave goodbye

Perhaps a wave goodbye

The humpbacks are in Hawaii from about November until May, but the peak part of the season is from January to March.  There is still time for you to see humpbacks here this year.  Come visit.

Aloha, Renée

* Unless otherwise noted, photos by me

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