Whale Watching in Hawaii
Winter Whales in Hawaii
While in most parts of the world winter means colder temperatures, log fires and potentially snow; that’s not the case in Hawaii! Winter on the islands means Humpback Whale mating season. Just like Hawaii’s visitors, these gigantic sea creatures are drawn to the warmer waters during winter where they migrate for breeding and birthing. By January to March thousands of Humpback Whales have completed the 4,000+km journey south from Alaska and have gathered in Hawaii.
Humpback Whales (or Kohola in Hawaiian) are one of the largest species of baleen whales weighing up to 45 tons and stretching up to 15 metres long. These gentle giants put on a brilliant show despite their size, gracefully launching up to 40% of their body out of the water before ending with a spectacular splash!
Cultural Significance of Whales in Hawaii
There is a dominant spiritual connection between the Native Hawaiians and all forms of life on the island. The Hawaiian tradition says the islands, the skies, the oceans, the plants and the animals were created by their gods which created a bond of life between the people and the environment. The strength of this is evident with family aumakua. Family aumakua are said to be deified ancestors (or family god) that have taken the form of an animal and appear in dreams and visions to provide guidance to their family. Many people of Hawaii still honour aumakua today.
The Humpbacks have been protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act since countless years of whaling around the world had decreased the numbers of the species significantly. As of 2017, Humpback Whales are no longer considered an endangered species. Helping to achieve this the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary strive to protect the species and their habitat through educational and resourceful programs. You can visit the sanctuary while you’re in Hawaii and even head out on a whale watching tour or participate in the annual Sanctuary Ocean Count held at the end of each month during peak season (Jan/Feb/March).
The Best Way To See Whales in Hawaii
There’s so many ways that you can catch a glimpse of Hawaii’s Humpback Whales. The most popular ways to guarantee you’ll get a close-up view of these gentle giants is boat tours or whale watching cruises. Cruises and tours depart for whale watching from every island in Hawaii.
Some of the best whale watching in the world happens from the island of Maui. The waters off the west and south shores of the island are enclosed by mountain ranges and Haleakala National Park making the water calm and extremely clear. The whales are drawn to areas like this because of the shallow waters (less than 180m deep). A visit to Lahaina Harbor will find you a huge array of whale watching tour options from charter boats to rafts. Boat tours and cruises are the best way to observe the whales. Although by law boats are prohibited from approaching within 100m of a whale, you’ll be surprised how close you feel to these magnificent creatures as you watch them playfully blowing spouts into the air, tail slapping the water and gracefully surfacing from the blue sea.
If a boat tour or cruise isn’t for you, don’t fret it’s common for visitors to spot a spurt of water from a resident whale from the shores of Hawaii’s islands. Bring along a pair of binoculars to get a good view of their acrobatic shows.