Yes, a vacation to Hawaii is sure to include amazing beaches, lush jungles, good food, and if you are lucky, and time your visit right, some of the most majestic creatures in the sea, humpback whales! Seeing whales in Maui is one of those experiences you will never forget. I fondly remember my mother-in-law, who lived in Maui, would always be looking out for whales throughout the Maui whale watching season (although sometime she would look for them while driving along the ocean, which would freak me out) Whale watching in Hawaii is one of the most popular winter activity and one of the best islands by far for whale sightings is Maui.
Amazing Whales in Maui! Everything to Know About Maui Whale Watching Season
Whales in Maui – What kinds will you see?
It is possible to see a number of different whale species on a visit to Hawaii. The warm waters in this region of the Pacific are teeming with fish and other food sources, making them a great habitat for whales. Take a whale watching trip and you might see false killer whales, Sperm whales, Orcas, or Cuvier’s beaked whales. You can also see Pygmy killer whales, Dwarf killer whales, Short-finned pilot whales, or Melon-headed whales in this region. The real highlight though and the most predictable whale to spot is the magnificent North Pacific Humpback whale.
Each year thousands of North Pacific humpback whales make their annual migration from the cold, rich waters of Alaska to the warm, tropical waters of Hawaii. Studies show that between 8,000-10,000 humpback whales make the journey to Hawaii each year from Alaska (check out my amazing Alaska Whale encounter here). Also, the number oh whales keep going up every year thanks to conservation efforts, so your chances of seeing a whale is contunally improving.
The whales use the warm Hawaiian waters to breed and also to give birth. It is a great habitat for newly born whale calves. You will see a few of the babies if you visit at the right time. After a few months of enjoying the Hawaiian waters, breeding or giving birth, the whales head back to the rich waters of Alaska to feed.
While it is possible to see whales throughout the year in Hawaii, Maui’s whale watching season is based on the yearly migration pattern of the humpback whales. There are a number of whales that remain in Hawaiian waters year round but the massive influx of humpback whales makes spotting a whale during the migration season basically a guarantee.
When is Maui Whale Watching Season?
Whale watching season runs from approximately mid-December to late April. The earliest humpback whale sightings are usually in November, sometimes October. These early sightings are rare and usually just include a few early arriving juvenile male whales.
Moving into December, the pregnant females start to arrive. After a long journey and an 11 month pregnancy, these whales tend to be a little less active. Due to it, sightings are a bit less common. By Thanksgiving though, most boat companies report at least a few sightings on their sailing or snorkeling tours.
The middle of January is when whale watching season really starts to peak. By now the breeding males have all arrived and the pregnant females have started to give birth. Whale watching boat tours are incredibly popular between the peak dates of mid-January and late-March.
Best ways to see the Whales
If you want the best experience, booking a whale watching boat tour is highly recommended. When I first wanted to go on a Whale Watching Excursion my husband was a little resistant as his mom made him go on one every year. But, now we find ourselves taking our kids on these whale watching excursions every single year. You definitely can see whales from the shore in Maui but the experience is just not the same. The whales will surprise you by how they want to interact with the boats and these gentle giants are just amazing up close.
If you are prone to seasickness or just don’t like boats though, we recommend keeping an eye out for whale activity from any of the beaches along the West or South side of Maui. You might be able to spot a whale spout or even a breach if you are really lucky. You can also take a morning tour as those are a lot less choppy.
Where to view Whales in Maui from the Shore-
If you are watching from the shore, Kaanapali Beach is the best place. Here you get a chance to see young calves with their mothers just a few hundred yards from the beach. The bluffs of Kapalua are another great place for sightings as is Kihei Beach. There is an amazing beach that very few people know about which you can see sea turtles in knee-high water and also look out for Whales
Maui Whale Watching Season Excursions!
When it comes to whale watching boat tours, you have many options. Tours range from large catamarans of up to 200 people to small traditional Hawaiian canoe boats. Many companies offer whale sighting guarantees, especially during the peak of whale watching season between January and March.
Something else to keep in mind is choosing a company with a strong eco-mission or conservation policy. All tour boats are required to follow conservation policies. The policy also includes not getting any closer than 100 yards to the whales. Some companies though, like Pacific Whale Eco-Adventures, take it a step above by donating to whale research organizations, following ecotourism guidelines, etc. Check Current Prices Here!
In general, morning boat tours have calmer waters while the wind and choppy water pick up by the afternoon tours. Some research seems to suggest whales breach more in windy, choppy waters though so both morning and afternoon tours have their advantages. Either way, it is recommended to bring a windbreaker and/or water-resistant jacket. You’ll also want to protect your camera gear from splashing waves if you plan to spend your time on deck.
The true highlight of any tour is the chance to see a humpback whale breach. It’s exciting to see them jumping out of the water and crashing back down. You are even more likely to get the chance to see fin slapping and of course almost guaranteed to see a few whale spouts. Many tour boats also have underwater microphones as well and once the engines are turned off will play the whale songs for guests onboard.
While boats are not allowed to get any closer than 100 yards, once their engines are off, whales often approach even closer to the boats. Captains are not allowed to turn on the engines while the whales are closer than 100 yards. Also, occasionally you will even get an extra long tour if a curious whale feels like hanging around awhile.
A Unique Maui Whale Watching Tour
A large number of tours leave from the West Maui hub of Lahaina. This was a whaling town back in the 1800s. Today, tours leaving from the harbor often spot whales within just a few minutes. A few tours also leave from Wailea, including the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures tours that use traditional Hawaiian canoes. That’s right, you can get on an old-fashioned canoe and sail out on a journey to see whales and dolphins. Have no fear, the guides on the tour are pros to keep you safe in the canoe, but you will have to do some work.
Whale watching in Maui truly is a magical experience. If you happen to be thinking of a winter trip to the Hawaiian islands, it is definitely worth it to plan around the peak whale watching season.
Have you Been Whale Watching? Let us know your experience in the Comments!
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