During the months of December through April, humpback whales return to Maui’s waters to mate, give birth and raise their young. Humpback whales have the largest percentage of females (76%) of all whale species. The warm and predator-free waters of Hawaii give it the optimal location for newborn calves. Being surrounded by other islands makes it an ideal protected place. One of the favorite activities for visitors is to see these magnificent humpback whales in Maui.
Where to see Humpback Whales in Maui?
The whales are all over Maui, but most visible on the southern side of the island. The warm shallow water near Lahaina makes it an optimal consideration for a new mom. Their only natural predator and Orcas do not live in the area either.
The most common sightings of Humpback Whales are from the beach. We witness them from the car, driving on the road, to dining at oceanside restaurants.
Lahaina Whaling History
Lahaina has a rich whaling history dating back to the late 1700s, when whaling was the primary source of income for Hawaiians. In the late 1800s, whaling declined and answered the call of commercial fishing and shipping. The whaling industry is still important in Hawaii today.
During the whaling years, Lahaina was known as “Tooea” (the gathering place). It was at Tooea that the central meetings were held, where news from the whaling fleets was shared.
Lahaina today still contains remnants of those whalers who pioneered this seafaring industry. As a result, Lahaina offers a rich whaling history.
The best time to see whales?
Whales stay in Maui during the winter months. The whales make their way back to Maui’s breeding grounds in December and leave by April 15th.
As our time on the island went, so did the number of whale sightings each day. By the end of the week, we noticed a significant decrease in activity. Most whaling tours will not operate past the 15th because they cannot guarantee sightings.
Is earlier or later in the season better?
The later you go, the riskier it is. The whales decide to move, all based on instinct. Some leave earlier in the season. I recommend seeing them in February – March. The calves are getting bigger and more active. As mom is getting them ready for their journey, they are learning more and more behaviors.
How to spot them?
Having a keen eye on the water is imperative to spot these amazing creatures. The first thing you’ll notice is their spout. Whenever a whale comes to the surface, it’ll use it as an opportunity to take a breath. After seeing their spout, it’s followed by the iconic ridges of their humpback. Adult Humpbacks need to take a breath every 10-15 minutes. Calves come up every 3-5 minutes, making them easier to track.
Humpback whales go through active and restful times. When they become active, mom will nudge the calf into play mode by doing a breach. This is when their entire body comes out of the water.
They also do a move called ‘Spy Hopping’. They poked their head out of the water to check the activity.
When you witness their tail going down, it’s their last goodbye and they dive deeper into the water.
How often are the whales active?
The whales are active during daytime hours. In Maui, you’ll witness some unique activities, including mom and baby. After the mom gives birth, they spend the next couple of months getting their baby strong enough to make the journey to Alaska for fishing.
During the mom’s time in Maui, they do not eat. They can lose a third of their body weight. All the while, they need to teach their calf and help them build muscles. All the while, mom needs to conserve her energy since there isn’t an adequate food supply in Maui to sustain them.
Interested in learning more about Humpback Whales’ migration and life? Check out Secrets of the Whales by Brian Skerry
Papawai Point Whale Watching
One of the best vantage points on Maui is Papawai Point. Papawai Point is a great spot the humpback whales. It also gives a superb view of the bay and McGregor Point Lighthouse.
McGregor Point Lighthouse in Maui, Hawaii, warns ships of the surrounding reefs and shallows. The lighthouse was first lit on November 1, 1881.
The lighthouse is on the southernmost point of the island of Maui. It is a popular attraction for whale watching in Maui.
This roadside stop can be tricky to get in and out of during the evening rush. I recommend visiting around lunchtime. It’s easier to get to for those traveling westbound on the Honopiilani Highway. The turnoff is by the Wind Turbines.
Tours in Maui
There are tons of Whale Watching tours in Maui. While all of them guarantee whale spotting, they differ in boat size and seating options. We opted to go on a smaller tour, Makaia Adventures.
Makaia Adventures is a small boat that offers an intimate whale watching experience leaving out of Lahaina harbor. It allows visitors to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures.
The boat is 25 feet long, allowing for a more personal experience. It also has an open-top deck, and the crew provides binoculars to their guests.
They have a maximum of 20 people on board, with cushioned seats. Half the boat is under shade. The smaller boat allowed us to have great discussions about the whales and ask one-on-one questions. It’s a great hybrid between the larger boats and the rafts that venture out.
Makaia Adventures offers tours throughout the year. When whales aren’t in season, they switch over to fishing tours and snorkeling adventures. Whenever you get the chance to do a smaller tour like this, I highly recommend it!
Tip: Reserve your tickets with Makai Adventure earlier on your trip in case it needs to be rescheduled. These trips will sell out! You can get your tickets by clicking here.
Kayak Tours in Maui
Kayaks are another popular way to see the humpback whales in Maui. You can get closer to them compared to a boat, but they are constantly on the move and you can spend the whole time paddling toward them.
I also found that while paddling is fun, these creatures are giant. I was anxious about being in a kayak with a whale in the water.
Sign up for a combination snorkeling, kayaking, and whale watching tour. These tours will sell out! Get your tickets by clicking here.
Do you need to do a tour?
Definitely not. There are plenty of options to see whales in Maui. A boat tour allows you to see them and guarantees a sighting. You have to go for it. Some experiences on the island are unforgettable. You don’t know if you’ll get another chance. I highly recommend it!