Whales and dolphins (cetaceans) are divided into two suborders – baleen whales (mystecetes) and toothed whales (odontocetes).
Baleen Whales – The humpback whale is by far the most common baleen species found in Hawaiian waters, although there have been rare sightings of fin, minke, Bryde’s, blue, and North Pacific right whales as well. As many as 10,000 humpbacks come to Hawaii every year to mate, give birth and nurse their calves. Hawaii’s humpback whale season runs from November through May, with January through March being the peak whale-watching months. Humpback whales are provided special protection in Hawaii by the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Humpback whales are also protected as an endangered species under federal and state law. For more on humpback whales, visit the NOAA humpback whale site.
Toothed Whales – Hawaii’s toothed whales range from the endangered sperm whale to a variety of smaller whales and dolphins. Commonly sighted toothed whales include pilot and false killer whales, as well as bottlenose and spinner dolphins. For more on toothed whales, visit the NOAA cetaceans site.