All kinds of visitors flock to Maui for vacation. We’re not just talking about people. In the winter, humpback whales seek out the sub-tropical weather of the Hawaiian Islands. That’s right, even humpback whales vacation in Hawaii. The surrounding waters of Maui are center-stage for these majestic creatures. Not that you need incentive to visit, but it’s all the more reason to book a Whale Watch Tour with us at Hawaii Ocean Project. We’ll provide front-row seats to the sheer awe and beauty of our favorite finned-friends at the height of whale watching season.
Having finished their summer feeding frenzy in Alaska, humpback whales make the 4-8-week trek to Hawaii for their annual winter migration. Some of the early birds can be spotted in November. But by February, their numbers are in full swing, meaning the time is now. Pods seek out the warm and shallow waters of the Au’au channel between Maui and Lanai – otherwise known as whale watching central. With the added protection of Molokai, the trifecta of Maui County provides shelter from natural predators, making it the perfect environment for their winter breeding purposes.
The ocean is a big place, but the great thing about humpback whales is that they’re kind of hard to miss. More often than not, they make their presence known. Mothers are in the midst of teaching their young how to swim and develop motor skills. You may see a calf by itself, but the mothers are always standing by; they let them off their training wheels for a bit and wander off so calves can experience their existence. Humpbacks not only enjoy the warmer climate, but also the safety of the environment.
Hawaii is a National Marine Sanctuary for humpback whales. Vessels are not permitted to approach a humpback within 100 yards, meaning if we were to stumble upon a pod, we would immediately cease our engines so as not to disturb them. Human presence has disturbed their existence long enough. Humpbacks were near the point of extinction at the height of the whaling industry in the 1800s. Through active conservation efforts, their population bounced back and in 1973, humpback whales were taken off the endangered species list. We are doing our part to keep it that way.
We are not out to prod or provoke. It’s called whale watching, after all. Nevertheless, it’s all about the safety of observation, a safety for both visitors and pods. They get to enjoy the freedom to repopulate and raise their young undisturbed, and we’re lucky enough to observe (the latter, not the former).
We’re not kidding about front-row seating. At any given moment, you can spot calves frolicking and playing. Even the adults put on a show with their near-constant breaching. They like to spy hop – peek along the surface to see what’s going on around them, so be sure to give them a wave. Adults come up for air every 10-15 minutes, while calves do so every 3-5 minutes. The name of the game isn’t whether you’ll see any, but how many you can keep track of.
We may try to keep our distance, but that doesn’t stop humpbacks from getting closer themselves in a phenomenon known as “mugging” (a polite use of the term). By law, we cannot proceed until they’re in safe distance, though we’re sure our passengers won’t mind the close encounter. Frankly, we don’t either. Since it’s mating season, male pods are often in competition over the chance to court the female, and the females themselves are known to seek nearby vessels as a way of escaping the attention. We’re not necessarily out on the water to provide an exit strategy, but we’ll happily oblige.
Humpbacks sing quite the song in the surrounding waters of Maui. Whale sightings are guaranteed this time of year. In fact, they’re numbers are so high in concentration that we embark on 4 tours daily for visitors to get the most out of the experience. You’ll be joined by our very own crew of marine naturalists to help pinpoint our finned friends for you, though since it’s peak season, you might beat them to it. In any case, they’re on board to narrate their history and biology while you have your eyes fixed on the ocean. The time for a whale watch tour is now. Book early and book online to save on a whale watch charter you’ll never forget.