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Overview

History
The Sanctuary

Education and Outreach
Research
Native Hawaiian Culture

History

Humpback whales were once plentiful in oceans worldwide. The global population of humpbacks was depleted by the commercial whaling industry at the start of the 20th century. In 1973, the United States government made it illegal to hunt, harm, or disturb humpback whales. When the Endangered Species Act was passed, the humpback whale was listed as endangered and remains so to this day. A variety of laws protect humpback whales, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, state wildlife laws, and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. In addition, they are protected as a resource of national significance within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

No one knows exactly when humpback whales first began wintering in the warm, shallow waters around the Hawaiian Islands. Narrative reports from whalers document the appearance of these majestic giants in Hawai`i in the 1840s, but little evidence substantiates an earlier presence. But arrive they did, and today, the waters around the main Hawaiian Islands constitute one of the world's most important North Pacific humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) habitats, and the only place in U.S. coastal waters where humpbacks reproduce.

The Sanctuary

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was created by Congress in 1992 to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawai‘i. It is administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with the State of Hawai‘i’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. National Marine Sanctuaries protect ocean and Great Lakes areas of national significance.

The sanctuary is located from the shoreline to the 100-fathom isobath (600 ft. depth) in the four island area of Maui; Penguin Bank; and off the north shore of Kaua‘i, the north and south shores of O‘ahu, and the north Kona and Kohala coasts of the Big Island.

Education and Outreach

Outreach and education programs and projects are conducted to foster awareness of sanctuary resources and to promote ocean stewardship among Hawai‘i's residents and visitors. Information about humpback whales and their habitat in Hawai‘i is made available to the public through educator and student workshops, community lectures, shore-based whale watches, volunteer and naturalist training sessions, and sanctuary publications. On Maui, the Sanctuary Education Center in Kihei is a beach-front facility with year-round exhibits and programs.

Research

The sanctuary conducts and supports humpback whale research that aims to increase scientific knowledge about the North Pacific humpback whale population and its habitat. Research efforts include photo identification, population, birth and mortality rates, and whale behavior.

Native Hawaiian Culture

Ocean stewardship is deeply embedded in Native Hawaiian culture. The sanctuary facilitates Native Hawaiian uses of the koholā (humpback whale) and its habitat by educating the public about traditional Native Hawaiian values, practices and traditions. A historical Native Hawaiian fishpond that fronts the sanctuary property on Maui provides a natural classroom for these education efforts.


Learn about the Geology & Climate of the Hawaiian Islands.


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