Honolulu – Sources seem to suggest that humpback whales have not followed the usual pattern that starts in December, of returning to Hawaii. It appears that the process has been slow since experts and whale lovers have not seen so many creatures on the islands yet. A researcher explained the delay could be occurring due to an increment of whale populations or because of changes in sea temperatures that are consequence of El Niño.

It is known that whale watching tours are very popular in the islands, however this year the expeditions will begin later than expected. Former sanctuary co-manager Jeff Walters at Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary said to The Guardian that normal amounts of whales are going to be seen since the last Saturday of January.

Photo: TIME/Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo: TIME/Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

“This isn’t a concern, but it’s of interest. One theory was that something like this happened as whales increased. It’s a product of their success. What I’m seeing out there right now I would have expected a month ago. We’ve just seen a handful of whales,” said Ed Lyman, a marine biologist at the Sanctuary.

The American Cetacean Society (ACS) explained that usually humpback whales follow a regular migration route, in other words, they find temperate and polar waters for feeding, and wintering in tropical waters for mating and calving.  

Every year at least 10,000 humpback whales migrate in groups of three or four from Alaska to Hawaii, which has warm waters, in order to mate and give birth, experts explained. Last year, on September 29, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration identified the first whale of the season as The Guardian reported.

Humpback whales are impressive animals, according to the ACS the shape and color pattern on their dorsal fin and tail are as individual in each animal as are fingerprints in humans, this fact has helped thousands of researchers and animal protectors around the world since they can identify and catalog them to analyze population sizes, migration, sexual maturity and behavior patterns, wrote the organization in its webpage.

According to the Marine Mammal Center, fewer than 10 percent of the original population of humpbacks remains, when analyzing this numbers it can be noted that this species are among the most endangered whales, explained the organization. In order to protect them, federal laws state that boats must approach them by a maximum of 100 yards

Ed Lyman explained that another theory for the unusual pattern could be explained because of El Niño, it appears that whales could be spending more time feeding in northern waters as a consequence of temperature changes caused by the climatological phenomenon.

As reported by the World Meteorological Organization El Niño is probably responsible for 16 to 20 percent of the rising temperatures. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from United States Department of Commerce, the phenomenon is a phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation cycle, which describes fluctuations in temperatures between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. El Niño is characterized by unusually warm temperatures.

“With more animals, they’re competing against each other for that food resource, and it takes an energy of reserve to make that long migration over 2,000 miles,” he said.

Source: The Guardian