Hawaii's Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae): Status and Conservation Efforts of NOAA's Humpback Whale Sanctuary
IAAAM Archive
Naomi McIntosh
NOAA's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
Honolulu, HI, USA


According to scientists, the shallow, warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands constitute one of the world's most important habitats for the endangered humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Nearly two-thirds of the entire North Pacific population of humpback whales migrates to Hawai'i each winter. Here, they engage in breeding, calving and nursing activities critical to the continued recovery of their species. Most humpbacks can be found in the warm, protected near-shore waters less than 100 fathoms (600 feet) deep (NOAA Fisheries 1991, Nitta and Naughton 1989).

In 1992, Congress designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary for the primary purpose of protecting endangered humpback whales and their habitat within the Hawaiian Islands marine environment. The Sanctuary focuses its management efforts to protect humpback whales in their Hawaiian habitat by supporting resource protection, research, long-term monitoring, education, and interpretation programs and by supporting efforts to improve coordination among the management agencies, researchers, educators, and various user groups.

Recent research indicates that the population of humpback whales in Hawaiian waters during the 1999-2000 season was approximately 4,500 and 6,500 individuals (Mobley, in press). The same research indicates that the population has increased an average of approximately seven percent per year from 1993 through 2000. At the present time, there is not enough information to indicate that any natural or human-induced impacts in Hawaii are detrimental to the recovery of the humpback whale. However, there are indications that problems could potentially arise as the population of whales grows, and as their range in Hawaii expands, and as human uses of ocean and coastal areas associated with whales increase.

An important goal of the Sanctuary is to conduct targeted studies that address management needs, analyze the causes and consequences of system changes, and predict the effects on humpback whales of new or increased levels of human activity within or around the Sanctuary. In addition, the Sanctuary will continue to focus efforts to improve understanding of the North Pacific population of humpback whales, and seek to compile baseline information on a variety of important characteristics of humpback whale biology.

Speaker Information
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Naomi McIntosh
NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
Honolulu, Hawaii

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