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If whale watching in Maui is at the top of your Hawaii vacation to-do list then this is the article for you. I packed in all the information you might need to make the best choice on dates, preparation, tours, and more. Take a look.
The Best Time For Whale Watching In Maui
During the winter, humpback whales take a migratory route from Alaska to Hawaii to give birth and raise their young. The winter months in which they most frequent the Hawaiian Islands are from December to March, February being the most popular.
For many animal-watching experiences, there are certain times of the day in which an animal is most active; the opposite can be said for whale watching. According to whale-watching experts, any time of the day can give you unique whale sightings, even at night!
While one of the best months for whale watching is February, whale season lasts through late November and April.
The Best Places On Maui To Go Whale Watching
Location is always a significant factor when whale-watching and Maui is no exception. Any part of the island can prove suitable for whale-watching; however, the southern and western sides of the island have much higher levels of whale activity due to the Maui Nui Basin.
The Maui Nui Basin is the breeding area for the majority of humpback whales that come to the islands; over 10,000 whales go through the Maui Nui Basin annually, making it the most popular place for humpback whale breeding in the world.
If you can’t make a tour there are several hotels in Ka’anapali, Kapalua, Wailea, and Lahaina that may be able to offer good vantage points. Several made our list of the best luxury hotels on Maui list.
Whale Watching Tours On Maui
Whale watching on Maui is the best chance you can get to see humpback whales up close with your own eyes. The majority of tours will leave from Lahaina Harbor, which will send you right into the warm Hawaiian waters to begin your tour.
If you’re looking to book a whale watch tour, here is a list of the best and most popular boat, snorkel, outrigger canoe, and whale-watching tours you can pick from when deciding to go whale-watching in Maui.
The large majority of boat tours use underwater hydrophones to record the whale songs on your journey; speakers then broadcast the sounds to the top of the boat so you can hear what is going on under the surface. To learn more about hydrophones and how they work, check out this article by NOAA.
Pride of Maui
Pride of Maui is one of the most popular snorkel tours you can choose from when deciding to whale watch. They offer 5-hour Molokini snorkel tours, whale-watching tours, turtle close encounters for the whole family, and even dinner cruises during the evening.
Pacific Whale Foundation
Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit that aids in teaching people about whales along with providing wonderful tours for the whole family. Snorkel, boat, and even private charters are available to book, just make sure that your choose the right time of year.
Redline Rafting provides a 5-hour award-winning tour of Molokini, La Perouse Bay, and even whale-watching during the season. At $189 per person, this tour gives you a full and in-depth look at the underwater world of Maui and the animals that call it home.
Hawaii Ocean Project
Hawaii Ocean Project provides 3 different tours; one of them being a 2-hour long whale-spotting tour that provides you with information along the way and a sighting guarantee, so you can make sure your money does not go to waste.
Pac-Whale Eco Adventures
Pac-Whale Eco Adventures is partnered with The Pacific Whale Foundation and offers memorable tours in Molokini, Lana’i, and Honolua Bay. Their goal is to not only teach people about what they are seeing but also give them an unforgettable experience that can only be seen from Maui.
Maui Adventure Tours
Maui Adventure Tours gives you a unique experience to see whales. They supply kayaking tours for you and your family to get a sight of humpback whales and maybe even their acrobatic skills. Additionally, they offer is HD Underwater Digital Camera rentals so you don’t have to buy your own GoPro.
How To Make The Most Out Of Your Whale-Watching Tour
Book your Maui whale-watching tour toward the start of your vacation
While most whale-watching tours guarantee sightings, it is completely possible to not see a single whale while on your tour; that is why it’s important to make sure that the company you use will give you credit for a second tour.
Booking your tour on the last day of your vacation means that you run the risk of not seeing a single whale, booking your tour at the start of your trip can give you more options if you get unlucky.
Besides whale watching, we have a whole section on Maui that will help you with hotels and things to do.
Choose a company that will educate you along with the tour
There are many great options for whale-watching tours (as previously listed), but some tour operators go out of their way to educate you about whales along with a fantastic tour! The Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit that helps educate people about whales and what we can do to help them, so you can be assured that you will walk away with an extra bundle of knowledge after a tour.
Humpback whales usually dive for around 30 minutes, but most commonly around 15 minutes.
It’s important to be patient and remember that they are just hidden under the surface; waiting may be boring but it is 100% worth it, humpback whales are characteristically acrobatic and are known to spout, show their flipper, and even jump out of the water!
5 Things To Expect From A Maui Whale-Watching Tour
5. Tail Slapping. When a whale wants to make its presence known, it may lift its entire tail out of the water and proceed to slam it against the water, creating a loud smacking sound.
4. Mugging. Whale-watching tours are required to keep a 100-meter distance from these magnificent creatures, but sometimes they can sneak up on a boat tour and swim alongside it to get a closer look, resulting in what’s called a mugging.
3. Blow. The best way to spot a whale from a distance is from its unique blow, spouting water into the air up to 30 feet makes it incredibly easy to find them; this is a great way to see them, especially in the early morning when the water is still dark.
2. Whale Songs. Lasting anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes, whale songs are one of the most unique things that you can experience while on a whale-watching cruise. Snorkel tours give you the best opportunity to hear the songs, rather than being above water in a boat.
1. Breaching. Notably, right after their song, humpback whales are known to launch themselves out of the water resulting in an enormous splash of water. Weighing a whopping 27-30 tons, being able to see a whale breach is truly an unforgettable moment.
Why Do Whales Come To Maui?
North Pacific humpback whales come to Maui to raise their young and give birth, mostly because of the warm waters in comparison to where they usually frequent. The waters of Maui are around 75ºF compared to the 35ºF waters of Alaska during the same time period.
Humpback whales usually stay in the vicinity of the Maui Nui Basin because of the lack of predators. Secondly, the topography of Maui allows for more protection for a mother whale to give birth and raise their offspring safely.
What Is The Best Island For Whale Watching?
While they can be seen from all of the Hawaiian Islands, humpback whales are vastly more active in the areas surrounding Maui Island. The best spots around Maui are the Maui Nui Basin and Auau Channel, and the largest amount of the entire humpback population goes through these two places during peak season.
The Maui Nui Basin is a relatively shallow underwater basin in which humpback whales are most comfortable and it isn’t uncommon for them to give birth in the basin as well, meaning that the Maui Nui Basin is the best whale spotting area.
The Auau Channel on the other hand is the most secure channel in the Hawaiian Island archipelago, with small groups of humpback whales and even false killer whales going through it. Since the Auau Channel is so wide (around 9 miles), larger boats are a more common sight if your tour goes through here.
What To Bring On a Maui Whale-Watching Tour
- Reef-Safe Sunscreen
- Hat and Sunglasses
- Jacket or Coat (if you get chilly)
- Plenty of Snacks
- Optional: GoPro or Waterproof Camera, if you plan on filming underwater