Humpback whales migrate yearly back to the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands. During this time, they give birth and take care of their young, relaxing in the warm, calm waters. The playing and jumping can be seen from shore as onwell many whale watching tours.
Maui Whale Watching Tours
A majority of the whale watching tours on Maui leave from the Lahaina harbor, although several leave from Ma'alaea harbor. The standard whale watching boat will run between mid-November and mid-May and run a few different trips a day per boat. Most cruises run for 2-3 hour trips.
There are many different types of boat trips for whale watching. You have the option of taking a catamaran, smaller speed boat, or larger, slower "dinner cruise" type boats. Many offer cocktails on the boat and some include all-you-can-drink soda, juice, and water. There are sunrise cruises, sunset cruises with or without dinner, and midday cruises with just snacks aboard.
Some boats have clear bottoms or underwater portholes to see the whales. Others offer "hydrophones" to be able to listen to the whale noises you are watching via a headset.
Most importantly, though, almost all cruises will show you whales. Many guarantee to see a whale and you should check if your tour offers this guarantee. There are thousands of whales out in those waters and they are coming up for air quite often, so your chances are pretty great at seeing them!
Humpback Whale Migration
Humpback whales reach up to 45 feet in length, weigh about 80,000 pounds, and can live past 40 years old. The North Pacific humpbacks spend the summer in the waters between northern California up to Alaska. The winter months, November to May, are spent in the warmers waters of the Pacific, typically near Hawaii. Nearly 60% of the North Pacific humpbacks winter in Hawaii, while the remaining 40% are found off of the coast of Mexico, southern California, or southern Japan.
These whales travel 2-4 mph on average during migration, however they can swim as fast as 20 mph. They use acoustical cues, currents, temperature, and even the earth's magnetic field to find their way. Whales generally stay within one region during a migration, however whales have been spotted in both Hawaii and Mexico during the same winter migration period.
Humpback calves are born in the Hawaiian island area and sightings of calves are common. Mothers will nurse their newborns for 6-8 months before they begin to feed independently.
In the summer months, the whales head back north to feed heavily on the plankton and krill. The colder warmers of the North are rich in nutrients and provide much of the fat for the whales to live off of for the rest of the winter months in Hawaii.
Whale Watching Tips
- Watch for the spray from the blowhole where the whales breathe.
- Whales can jump (called breaching), slap their tails, slap their pectoral fins, perform a head slap, or perform a big arch (peduncle arch) while you are watching. Watch for all different activities.
- Watch whales from shore to get a feel for what you can see. A few hours on the beach staring at the ocean will surely yield some whales.
- Whale Watching Boats are not allowed to drive within 100 yards of the whales. Bring a camera with a long lens.
- Bring a jacket on the tours. The winds can be chilly.
- Listen to your captain or leader of the boat. They will see the whales before you do and point out where to look.
- Bring waterproof sunscreen with you on the boat. A visor or hat will help as well.