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Hawaii Vacation – Whale Watching Tour in Maui

Hawaii Vacation – Whale Watching Tour in Maui

Want to experience an unbelievable and exciting Hawaii vacation? How about some whale watching in Maui? The North Pacific Humpback Whales regularly visit the tropical ocean waters of Hawaii each year. Their annual migration allows tourists to see these gentle giants on a whale watching tour from the Hawaiian islands.

The North Pacific Humpback Whales

The North Pacific Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are the 5th largest whale species in the world. They can weigh up to 40 tons (80,000 pounds). On average, these whales can grow to 40 to 45 feet; females are slightly bigger than males.

Despite their massive size, Humpbacks are very gentle. They feed on krill, plankton, small crustaceans, and fish, consuming up to 3,000 pounds of food per day! The Humpback Whales (or Kohola in Hawaiian) can swim at a speed of 3 to 7 miles per hour. Every year, they travel over 3,500 miles from Alaska to Hawaii for their annual winter migration.

The Humpback Whales migrate from the frigid waters of Alaska to the warmer waters of Hawaii. They do this for three reasons: to breed, give birth, and raise their young safely. Also, the whales are believed to go to Hawaii because of the warmer temperatures, underwater visibility, and lack of natural predators.

The female has a gestation period of 11-12 months. Newborn calves are born 13-16 feet long and weigh about 2,000 pounds. The calves gain around 100 pounds and grow an inch daily, feeding on their mother’s milk. The mothers are extremely protective, playful, and affectionate with their young.

There are three distinct populations of North Pacific Humpback Whales. These populations are called “stocks.” The California/Oregon/Washington stock migrated from British Columbia to Central America. The Western North Pacific stock migrate from the Alaskan Kodiak archipelago to the waters of Japan. Finally, the Central Pacific stock, where the Kohola (Hawaiian for whales) belongs, migrates from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands.

Humpback Whales have been migrating to Hawaii since the Polynesian era (1-600 AD). Ancient carvings on stone (petroglyphs) of humans interacting with Kohola have been found in Olowalu on Maui, Palaoa Hill on Lanai, and Pohue on the Big Island. These petroglyphs’ existence proves that Humpback Whales have regularly migrated to the Hawaiian islands since ancient times.

During the 1960s, decades of whaling depleted the population of North Pacific Humpback Whales to 1,400. But thanks to marine conservationists, their numbers are estimated to increase to about 21,000 as of 2014. Scientists believe that about half of the population (8,000 – 10,000) visits Hawaii annually. International efforts have been in place since the 1970s to protect the whales from hunting and save the species from extinction.

Whale Watching Tour

When is the best time to see the Humpback Whales in Hawaii? The whale watching season officially runs from December 15 to April 15. The peak season is during January and February.

The best (and most exciting) way to see Humpback whales is to embark on a whale watching tour on board a boat. Various companies offer boat tour packages. Usually, a professional guide will be provided.

An excellent place to view Humpbacks is the Auau Channel that runs between West Maui, Lanai, and Molokai. Tourists can sign up for a whale watching tour at one of the kiosks at Lahaina Harbor. Usually, the tour costs around $100 per person. You can choose to go on a charter boat or a passenger raft. The whale watching tour lasts for two to four hours.

As a precautionary measure, all watercraft observe a minimum safe distance of 100 yards from the whales. Even with that distance, you’ll be amazed at how close it feels when the whales breach, propelling their bodies out of the water and diving back into it with a spectacular splash.

These boats follow the whales and bring tourists very close (within a safe distance) to the action. Seeing these gentle giants up close is surely an experience to remember! You can bring a camera to take pictures of the amazing whales, but be careful not to lose your balance while doing so.

Also, if you have small children with you, make sure that they are wearing a life vest. Talk to the tour operator beforehand regarding safety protocols and procedures just to be safe. When everything is in place, you can focus on watching the majestic whales as they put on an exciting and breathtaking “show.”

An Amazing Display of Grace and Power

The most anticipated behavior of Humpback Whales that tourists want to see is the breach. It is an acrobatic-like act where the whales quickly gain speed, launch their bodies out of the water, and powerfully land on the ocean’s surface with a huge splash!

Another whale behavior is the blow. Adult Humpbacks swim to the surface every 10 to 15 minutes to breathe. Meanwhile, young calves come to the surface every 3 to 5 minutes. One sure way to spot the whales is to search for the blow spray above the ocean’s surface. It is their way of breathing as they inhale and exhale through their blowhole.

Still, another maneuver made by the Humpback Whales is the peduncle slap. A peduncle slap is when the whale throws its whole tail out of the water and finishes with a dramatic slap on the ocean’s surface.

Whale Watching Tips

  1. Choose a reputable tour operator.

Taking some time to research various whale-watching tour operators is important. Determine how long they have been operating, know their safety protocols, compare prices, and know what is included in the tour package.

  1. Check the weather and marine forecast

Tour operators are supposed to check the weather reports before venturing into the ocean. It is best to go on a whale-watching tour on the calmest day possible. If the forecast indicates that it’s going to be cloudy or there would be high winds, it’s better to postpone your trip.

  1. Get there on time

Know beforehand what time the boat will depart. Arriving on time (with some time to spare) will prevent rushing around and undue stress.

  1. Consider taking motion sickness medicine

Whale watching can last anywhere from two to four hours, so if you get seasick, it could be an uncomfortable experience. Consult with a doctor what motion sickness medicine to take. Seeking medical advice is especially important if you are pregnant, have a medical condition, or taking other medications. Take medicine before boarding the boat (usually 30 to 60 minutes prior). As much as possible, opt for the non-drowsy version.

    1. Bring A Camera

Your whale watching experience in Hawaii is definitely a moment to remember. Bringing a camera will ensure that you can take some amazing shots of the majestic Humpback Whales. When you get home, you can proudly show the amazing photos to relatives and friends.


A Hawaii vacation in Maui will be more memorable if you can see the magnificent Humpback Whales in their natural environment. Their annual migration takes them from Alaska’s cold waters to Hawaii’s tropical waters. The whale watching season begins in December and lasts until April, with peak sightings in the month of January and February. Enjoy your Hawaii Islands vacation!

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