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HUMPBACK WHALES are everywhere, roaming all the oceans of the world.

It’s not that there are huge numbers of humpbacks — just 30,000 to 40,000 worldwide, estimates the American Cetacean Society. It’s that humpbacks cover lots of water, regularly migrating thousands of miles between tropical and polar regions.

The first time I saw a humpback was while kayaking in Alaska near Juneau. The massive, mottled gray-black creature — humpbacks can be almost 50 feet long and weigh 40 tons — surfaced about 100 yards from me. I was so shocked and awed that I practically tipped over my kayak.

One of the easiest, and most pleasant, places to see humpbacks is Hawaii. Like humans, they revel in the warm waters around the Hawaiian Islands. About 10,000 humpbacks migrate to Hawaii from November to May (with January-March being prime time) to breed and nurture their young.

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I’ve watched humpbacks’ spectacular acrobatics — breaching (thrusting their bodies vertically out of the water), fin-slapping and splashing — from the comfort of a Big Island hotel room, from a Kauai beach, and from the deck of a little boat off Molokai.

Watch the whales play. Listen to recordings of the males’ plaintive, haunting songs that echo for miles through the ocean. Or, if you can, sail away on a whale-watching boat — many Hawaiian companies offer half-day tours — to see humpbacks up close in their water world.

Kristin R. Jackson is The Seattle Times NWTraveler editor. Contact her at