By now, most of you seen the alarming stories shared on social media: “Hawaii’s Humpback Whales Have Gone Missing,” “Mystery absence of humpback whales in Hawaii has experts scratching heads” and so forth. Here’s Smithsonian Magazine‘s take, published on Jan. 4:
This year, though, the whale welcoming has been put on hold due to extremely low numbers of arriving whales. Scientists speculate that the whales might just be further north due to water temperature disruptions from El Niño that could be changing the availability of food, writes the Associated Press.
Whaaat?! No more whales!? Noooo!
Seriously though, it does seem alarming, especially given the importance “whale season” plays in Maui’s tourist-centered economy. Well, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary fired back with a press release today in an attempt to “clarify” some of that doomsday talk about missing whales. Turns out we might be worrying over nothing:
• We can’t say that there are lower numbers, just later numbers. Total numbers would require dedicated research. Anything else is observational or anecdotal.
• Whales are being observed daily in growing numbers.
• Whale season is normally November through May. The peak is February and March. Whales don’t have watches or calendars, so they might not exactly follow human expectations.
• They were a bit later this year than in recent years, but are now arriving, and our experts were out yesterday and saw a large number of whales off Maui. Local tour operators have also reported seeing normal numbers of whales recently.
• This year’s arrivals appear to be in keeping with long-term historic observations. Recent years have had whales arriving early, making a “normal” arrival appear to be late.
• HIHWNMS conducts Ocean Count, a citizen science volunteer effort to count whales, every year at the end of January, February and March. Numbers in February and March are typically higher than January.
• Numbers of whales usually gradually increase in January and February, since whales don’t all come in a mass at the same time.
Feel better now?