Whale Watching Season on Maui: The Humpbacks' Annual Return is a Joy to Behold

Posted in: Environment, Things to Do

By Lauren LaDoux, Maui Sales Director

Whale season on Maui is like Christmas at Disneyland, even for us locals. We look forward to the announcement we receive every year that the first whale has been spotted, marking the start of the season. This year, Pacific Whale Foundation spotted our first whale on October 8th a few miles north from Molokini. And just like that it was like Christmas decorations hit the shelves and we’re preparing for the big event when all the whales arrive.

The Humpbacks of Hawaii were officially delisted from the endangered species list in 2016, which is the result of a 40-year initiative to protect the species. In the winter, thousands of Humpbacks migrate to Hawai‘i and people from all over the globe come to witness it. The peak of the season is from mid December to March, though we do still see lingering whales through April to May. Research community believes that the whales birth their babies on the trip over from Alaska traveling to warmer waters to escape their only predator, the Orca, and to help build their calves muscles on the journey so that they can better defend themselves once they return to cooler waters. There is no food for the whales while they are here so they spend their entire visit without eating, all while nursing their babies too! The result of this is that we get to see many Mama Whales with their babies, frolicking in the water. I personally have sat on Sugar Beach in North KÄ«hei and witnessed calves breaching with their mothers right off shore. It’s a majestic site to see!

Along the west coast of Maui, from Lahaina to Makena, is the best area to spot these majestic beauties from shore. The water is shallower on this side of the island and much calmer. During the peak of whale season, the drive on Honoapi‘ilani Highway is magical. The highway is on the ledge of the coast and overlooks the ocean with scenic views for miles and during the peak of whale season, you can possibly see whales breach up to every five minutes. If you do plan to do this drive in the hopes of spotting some whales, please make sure to pull off on one of the many outlooks on this highway to avoid potential accidents.

Pacific Whale Foundation doesn’t officially start its Whale Watching boat tours until December 1th but they do offer discounted tours before this date for those searching out those early arriving whales. Each one of their tours has a certified marine naturalist on board who offers a ton of educational information on these whales and the efforts taken by Pacific Whale Foundation to protect them. They offer many different whale watching tours to fit your preference, needs and affordability but the favorite of Alicia, Communications Coordinator at Pacific Whale Foundation, is the Whalewatch Deluxe. It is a 3 hour long tour on a catamaran with a catered lunch and plenty of viewing room to watch the whales. You can view their many different tours here.

During February, Pacific Whale Foundation dedicates the entire month to celebrate our Humpback whales and they call it Whale Festival Month. They put on a ton of events to celebrate these mammals, and to educate and bring awareness. If you are visiting in February, make sure you check out what they have going on at and join in on the festivities!

Special thanks to Alicia Rittenberry of Pacific Whale Foundation for her time and allowing us to pick her brain for this article!

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