Mystery absence of humpback whales in Hawaii has experts scratching heads
03 January, 2016, 17:51
Officials from the Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary believe that there isn't anything to worry about just yet, but since humpback whale season begins in December, it's been mystifying that the whales have been rather elusive since then.
In this file picture, a humpback whale leaps out of the water in the channel off the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
More than 10,000 whales journey from Alaska to Hawaii to make and give birth each year. One theory was that something like this happened as whales increased. According to sanctuary, the iconic whale is slow to return this year and very few than usual have been seen in the season so far.
Ed Lyman, a Maui-based marine biologist and response coordinator for the sanctuary says, "This isn't a concern, but it's of interest". The season for humpbacks usually runs from November through May, as whales swim along the archipelago.
In a statement provided to WTMA, It will be a while before officials have hard numbers because the annual whale counts don't take place until the last Saturday of January, February and March, according to former sanctuary co-manager Jeff Walters. One population in the Arabian Sea is distinct because they don't migrate, remaining in the tropical waters year-round.
Lyman said the whales' absence could just mean they're spending more time feeding in northern waters, possibly because of El Niño disruptions or because their population has gone up.
With El Nino changing water temperature in the Pacific Ocean, humpback whales don't need to stomp further to find the warm waters. There is also a possibility of more animals competing with each other for food resource, and it takes an energy reserve to make that long migration for over 2,000 miles, added Lyman. Humpback and sperm whales were caught in nets off the coast of California and became stranded, 30 whales died from unknown causes off the coast of Alaska, and over 300 whales were found dead on the coast of Chile. Humpback whale migration is thus put on hold.