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Humpback Whales in Maui

Humpback Whales in Maui

04 Nov 2019

Every Winter, Whales Flock to Maui. Here’s Our Guide For Where to Spot Whales on Maui and Maui’s Best Family-Friendly Whale Watching Tours

As big as a school bus, as acrobatic as a ballerina, and full of otherworldly songs, Humpback Whales migrate from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands every year. One of their favorite spots to congregate is just off the coast of West Maui. Between the months of November to March, the warm, shallow waters between the islands of Maui, Molokai, and Lanai fill up like a giant jacuzzi party. Whales come to breed, calve, and, like so many of us, simply enjoy the Hawaii life. Observing these amazing creatures, whether from shore or by boat, is one of our top things to do when visiting Maui during the winter season.


Pacific Humpback Whale Migration

According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the Humpback whale has the single longest migration of any mammal, swimming over 5,000 miles (8200 km) round trip. These marathon swimmers voyage non-stop for 6-8 weeks from their summer feeding grounds to their warm winter breeding and calving grounds. Many female whales make this incredible trek pregnant! 

The Pacific Ocean is home to three different groups of Humpbacks that follow unique migratory patterns. An eastern group migrates from California to Mexico, a western group migrates from the Aleutian Islands to islands south of Japan, and the central group travels from Alaska to the Hawaiian Islands.



Whale Songs

Musicians of the ocean, song is what Humpbacks are known for. Male Humpback whales can sing for up to 40 minutes and their song is intended to attract and communicate with potential female mates. Females are not known to sing. Pacific Humpback whales sing totally different songs than Atlantic Humpback whales. Northern Pacific Humpback whales, which include whales with different migratory patterns as far away as California and Japan all sing the same song from different places in the song. The songs do evolve and change slightly overtime. If you go underwater on Maui’s west coast and listen during whale season, you can likely hear the whales singing yourself! 


Where to Spot Whales on Maui 

Whale season on Maui is roughly from November to March. February, dubbed “Humpback Whale Month”, is considered to be the peak time for whale spotting. Lucky for us, West Maui is arguably the best place to see Humpback whales in Hawaii, as it borders the The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS). Established in 1992 by Congress to protect the whale’s habitat, the HIHWNMS website has a wealth of information for those that want to learn more about Hawaii’s Humpbacks, including some interesting whale trivia.

Whales can be spotted breaching, smacking their tails, and generally horsing around from many Lahaina and Kaanapali beaches. If you hear a loud BOOM near the water’s edge, don’t fear, it’s just a whale having a good time. We’ve heard stories of whales startling walkers on busy Front Street in Lahaina town, where they sometimes come quite close to the shore. It can be fun to grab a cup of coffee on Front Street and watch them. Kaanapali Beach, and beaches north also make for great whale watching.



Best Whale Watching Tours on Maui

If you want to get a closer look at these amazing creatures, there are numerous whale watch tours to choose from in West Maui. From luxurious sunset cruises to authentic kayaking tours, to non-profit organizations that use your ticket to do good, it all depends on your style. The following tours depart from either the Lahaina Harbor, or Kaanapali Beach, conveniently located nearby our vacation rentals. 




Luxury sailing cruise, premium cocktails, kid-friendly and multiple tour options 

A luxury 65’ catamaran, the Trilogy offers a sailing cruise with all the amenities, including premium food and beverage service. With a cap of 49 passengers (just 50% of the boat’s capacity), the Trilogy feels spacious and uncrowded and has bathrooms and showers on board. They offer a whale watch tour and several other premium cruises departing right from Kaanapali Beach. They have an excellent website, with video of their tours and an interesting family history of boat building and sailing catamarans around the world. 

Their whale watch tour includes breakfast or lunch, a hydrophone for listening to whale songs, and two adult beverages on the afternoon sail. Children are welcome and ride at a reduced rate. While their other tours are not listed specifically as a ‘whale watch’, during whale season you are likely to spot whales while aboard their sunset and snorkel cruises. Two of our favorites include the Discover Kaanapali excursion for snorkeling, (which begins with fresh cinnamon rolls!) and the Captain’s Dinner Sunset Sail for a romantic evening.



Makai Adventures

Kid-friendly, small tour size, private charters 

A family run company, Makai Adventures offers intimate whale watch tours (20 people or less) and private charters on their two different vessels. The Kainani, a 43' Beneteau Oceanis sailboat limited to six people has 3 cabins, 2 bathrooms, a shaded cockpit, and large swimstep. Their second boat, the Kainalu, is a mid-sized motorized boat that fits up to 20 people and has a bathroom and shower on board. 

We like the size of Makai’s boats which offer the small tour size and maneuverability of a zodiac style raft boat without the bumpy, sun drenched ride. Both vessels have a hydrophone to listen to whale songs and shaded seating. Children of all ages are welcome. Tours depart from Lahaina Harbor, or Kaanapali Beach for the Kainani sailboat. 


The Pacific Whale Foundation 

Kid-friendly, educational, support a good cause

Established in 1980, this non-profit organization offers whale watch tours, with 100% of the proceeds going to support their research, conservation, and public education efforts. All of their tours are led by a Certified Marine Naturalist who holds a degree in marine sciences or a related subject and goes through an extensive training program. This is an excellent tour for those that are really interested in the science behind Humpback whales and the efforts being done to help protect and preserve them. 

Our favorite tour is on their 42 passenger catamaran, Ocean Spirit, which departs from the Lahaina Harbor. Children 6 years and under ride free, and they have a junior naturalist program for kids. Sunscreen and water are provided and snacks, soda, and juice are available for purchase on board.


Kelii’s Kayaks 

Kid-friendly, adventurous, snorkeling & swimming

This award-winning Kayak tour company has been around for 25 years. Kelii’s Kayaks has been repeatedly voted best of TripAdvisor, Fodors, and featured in Conde Nast Traveler Magazine. Book their West Maui Shore Kayak and Snorkel Tour during whale season for epic views of whales and other marine life.

Being in a kayak is an authentic way to experience Humpbacks and be truly humbled by their size. No noise of a motor to scare away wildlife and small tour groups create an intimate, natural experience for those that love to immerse themselves in nature. The tour departs from Ukumehame Beach Park, about 25 mins drive south from Kaanapali and is open to all skill levels and children.


Looking for a winter vacation rental that’s close to whale sightings and the Humpback Whale Sanctuary? Contact us for help finding the perfect place to stay in Kaanapali.