Protected Resources

Humpback Whale

©FAO/FIGIS

Scientific name: Megaptera novaeangliae
Pacific Island names: koholā (Hawaiian), tafola (Samoan)

Stock Assessment / Estimated Breeding Population

For a current Stock Assessment Report (SAR), please visit: NOAA Fisheries - Office of Protected Resources - Marine Mammal SAR, Large Cetaceans, Central North Pacific Stock

Legal Protection

Natural History

Please see Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) website for details of Humpback whale natural history.

Potential Threats

Photo: Humpback whale with marine debris. HIHWNMS

Current Management Issues

Endangered Species Listing History

We intend to consider critical habitat for the 3 listed DPSs that occur in U.S. waters (Western North Pacific DPS (i.e., Marianas Archipelago), Central America DPS (range is not within the Pacific Islands region), and Mexico DPS (range is not within the Pacific Islands region)) in a separate rulemaking.

How do these DPSs and status changes affect the Pacific Islands Region?

The Hawaii DPS is not listed, so ESA section 7 consultations are no longer required for Federal actions that may affect humpback whales in this area, and ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) research permits are no longer needed for proposed research on humpback whales in the waters surrounding Hawaii. Existing humpback whale approach regulations apply within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and on September 8, 2016, NOAA Fisheries issued humpback approach regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) that apply in all waters within 200 nautical miles of the islands of Hawaii (Regs.gov link). See below for more information on the MMPA approach regulation. An MMPA scientific research permit is still needed for any humpback whale research.

Since the endangered Western North Pacific DPS occurs in U.S. territories in the Marianas archipelago (Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands), ESA section 7 consultations will continue to be necessary in these areas for Federal actions that may affect humpback whales, and ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) permit applications will be needed for proposed research on humpback whales in these areas. An MMPA scientific research permit is still required for any humpback whale research.

The Oceania DPS occurs in the U.S. territory of American Samoa, but it is not listed, so Federal agencies will not need to consult under section 7 of the ESA on actions they fund, authorize, or carry out that may affect those humpback whales. Research on humpback whales in this area can proceed without an ESA section 10(a)(1)(A) research permit. However, an MMPA scientific research permit is still required for any humpback whale research.


Approach Regulations for Humpback Whales in Hawaii and Alaska

Existing humpback whale approach regulations in Hawaii were issued under authority of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). With the September 8, 2016 ESA final listing rule, which divides the globally-listed humpback whale into 14 distinct population segments (DPSs), the ESA regulations no longer apply (because the Hawaii DPS is not listed). NOAA Fisheries determined that approach regulations are still warranted and, on September 8, 2016, published an interim final rule under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) authority that is similar to the ESA regulations. Humpback whale approach regulations in the Hawaiian Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary will remain in place within Sanctuary waters.

The public is able to comment on this interim final approach rule until November 7, 2016. View the interim final rule and instructions for submitting comments here. View the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact here.

In a separate rule (81 FR 62018) also published concurrently with the listing revision, Alaska’s humpback whale approach regulations that appear in the part of the Code of Federal Regulations that covers endangered species were codified so that they also appear in the part that covers threatened species, to reflect the status change of the listed populations that feed there (the endangered Western North Pacific DPS and the threatened Mexico DPS). In that rule, we also added Alaska’s approach regulations to another part of the Code of Federal Regulations under authority of the MMPA to protect all humpback whales found off Alaska, including those not ESA-listed.


Conservation Actions

Range Map of Humpback Whale DPS

Map of 14 Humpback Whale DPSs

Viewing Guidelines

  • Remain at least 100 yards from humpback whales (this is Federal law), and at least 50 yards from other marine mammals.
  • Bring binoculars along on viewing excursions to assure a good view from the recommended viewing distances.
  • Limit your time observing to 1/2 hour.
  • Marine mammals should not be encircled or trapped between boats or shore.
  • If approached by a marine mammal while on a boat, put the engine in neutral and allow the animal to pass.
    Boat movement should be from the rear of the animal.

Important Phone Numbers

Marine Mammal Stranding/Entanglement Hotline: 1-888-256-9840

More Information