Humpback whales will soon leave Hawaii, lured back to Alaska for their annual summer feeding frenzy. But before they go, one pod of Hawaiian humpbacks squeezed in a few more days of fun.
The video above was recently filmed over a three-day span off Oahu's North Shore, one of many places humpback whales — also known locally as "kohola" — appear during their seasonal stay in Hawaii. The dramatic footage comes courtesy of photographer Eric Sterman, who used an aerial drone and a GoPro camera to spy on the marine mammals from overhead.
"I was able to catch these beautiful whales enjoying the ocean over 3 separate days on the North Shore of Oahu, my favorite being the pod of whales swimming through the wave lineup at [Banzai] Pipeline," Sterman writes on YouTube, adding that a zoom lens allowed him to shoot this footage while keeping the drone a safe distance away from the whales. "While I filmed from land, the whales ranged anywhere from a mile out at sea to close to the shore. A truly awesome experience."
A photo of a mother humpback and her calf surfing the Banzai Pipeline recently went viral, and Sterman's video offers a different angle on the scene. Starting at 0:53 in the video, groups of human surfers are visible near the left side of the frame as the drone soars over the legendary reef break. Another cool shot immediately follows at 1:00, when Sterman positions the drone directly above the pod just as a wave passes over them. And perhaps the most picturesque parts of the video come at 0:06 and 0:43, when rainbows form in the mist created by the whales exhaling.
About half of the North Pacific humpback population spends winter in Hawaii, while the rest go to coastal Mexico, Central America and Japan. They typically reach Hawaii in November and December, taking advantage of warm, shallow and relatively calm waters to mate and give birth. The adults don't eat while in Hawaii, instead living off blubber, but the calves do drink their mothers' milk — up to 100 gallons per day. By May, the humpbacks usually start heading back to coastal British Columbia and southeastern Alaska, where they spend summer feasting on krill, plankton and small fish.
Humpback whales were decimated by the industrial whaling industry in recent centuries, with the North Pacific population dwindling to about 5,000 individuals by the 1960s. They've since begun to rebound with the help of endangered species protections, and about 20,000 humpbacks now swim around the North Pacific — including an estimated 12,000 that migrate to Hawaii every year.
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