Designated: November 4, 1992
Area: 13,700 mi²
The name says it all. The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is home to one of the world’s most important populations of that protected species. Starting at the shorelines of Maui, Kaua’i, O’ahu and the Hawai’i Island’s Kona and Kohala coasts, the Sanctuary protects more than 21,000 humpbacks.
Whale watching by boat and from the shores is a major activity here, but the destination also encourages exploring the resident seals, sea turtles, dolphins, fish, invertebrates, and birds. Three times yearly, more than 2000 volunteers – including many ecotourists – participate in the Sanctuary Ocean Count: monitoring, counting and documenting behavior of humpbacks throughout Hawai’i. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation plays a major ongoing role in the Ocean Count, providing funding and other support, for more than a decade. These efforts improve habitats, raise ocean awareness, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. The whale watching industry, in which the Sanctuary is essential, contributes up to $11 million in total revenue annually to the adjacent communities, with a total economic impact of nearly $74 million per year.
The Sanctuary is active in research and conservation, with the Whale Disentanglement Response Initiative as its cornerstone. A highly-skilled rescue team undertakes dangerous, complex processes to free mammals from fishing gear and marine debris coming from as far away as 2500 nautical miles.
Visitors to Maui can tour Foundation-supported sanctuary exhibits located at a visitor center along the shores of an historic native Hawaiian fishpond in Kihei, interpreting the wildlife and habitats found in the sanctuary.