Seeing a humpback whale in its natural habitat is nothing short of awe-inspiring. This graceful creature is the fifth largest of the world’s whale species, weighing up to 40 tons and growing to 60 feet in length.
Each year, thousands of humpback whales journey south from their feeding grounds off Alaska to warmer ocean habitats to mate and give birth to their young.
Best Months to See Whales in Maui
Approximately 3,500 whales begin to arrive in Maui in December and remain in the coastal waters around the island until as late as April. Here, humpbacks can raise offspring in an environment that is relatively safe from predators. Visitors to Maui from January through March are almost guaranteed to spot whales – either from land or on one of the many whale watching and snorkeling cruises offered by tour operators on the island.
Whale Watching Tours
Anyone planning a trip to to Maui this winter should pack binoculars and a camera with a powerful zoom lens. Humpbacks can often be spotted from the shoreline, especially when they emerge from the water in a spectacular display known as ‘breaching’. Occasionally, whales will venture within a few hundred yards from the beach.
Travelers wanting to get out on the water to view humpbacks can choose from several guided whale-watching cruises. These depart frequently from Lahaina harbour in West Maui and Ma’alaea Bay near Kihei and Wailea. Quick Silver Snorkeling Cruises is rated tops by TripAdvisor travelers and departs out of Ma’alaea Harbour, as does the Pride of Maui. For those who want to learn more about whale behaviours and habitats, the Pacific Whale Foundation offers family-oriented ocean cruises to fund research and advocacy efforts to save these endangered mammals. Foundation cruises leave from both Lahaina and Ma’alaea.
If they get within earshot, some whale watching vessels will place microphones in the water to enable guests to hear audible songs whales use to communicate. It is worthwhile to seek cruise companies that offer this experience.
Other Ocean Adventure Activities
Sunset dinner cruises, sailing, longboarding, kayaking and scuba diving activities also present opportunities to view whales. The sheer number of humpbacks inhabiting coastal waters around Maui in the winter months means that adventure-seekers are likely to spot these mammals even when they’re not looking for them. Sea turtles and dolphins also inhabit Hawaiian waters. Ocean adventure companies offer snorkeling, kayaking and diving excursions that include these creatures as part of the marine education experience.
Humpbacks are known to be curious and will sometimes approach boats to get a closer look. The Pacific Whale Foundation refers to this as ‘whale mugging’. Tourists should not be too concerned about their vessels overturning as whales are not prone to ramming watercraft.
Reputable tour companies will make every effort to respect ocean habitats. Hawaii has strict laws to protect whales from human interference. Boaters must keep a distance of at least 100 yards from humpbacks; however, whales don’t always follow the rules.