Due to the large number of whales found in Hawaiian waters, Hawaii whale watching is very popular. Hawaii’s resident whales include the sperm whale, false killer whale, pigmy killer whale, beaked whale, melon-head whale and, most common of all, the pilot whale. The pilot whale is a small whale that often travels in large pods and, like most whales, prefers deep offshore waters.
Several types of migrating whales occasionally pass through Hawaiian waters, including the fin whale, minke whale and right whale. But it is the islands’ most frequent visitor — the Hawaii humpback whale — that everyone wants to see.
Two-thirds of the Pacific humpback whale population migrate to Hawaii each winter to breed, bear, and nurse their young. If, like the humpback whale, you too are planning a winter escape to tropical island paradise, you’ll have many opportunities to meet and enjoy these magnificent creatures, regardless of which Hawaiian Island you visit.
Although Hawaii whale watching is enjoyable on any one of the islands, humpback whales concentrate in the shallow warm water between the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kahoolawe. The Kona Coast of the Big Island is another favored spot, as is the Penguin Bank, which lies 10 miles west of Molokai.
Humpbacks begin arriving in Hawaii around November and some stay as later as May. However, the best time to see the humpback whales is between January and March. They prefer waters with depths of less than 600 feet, which makes it quite possible that you just might catch a whale close to shore.
Whales swim so close to shore, you can often see them from coastal roads. To get even closer, take one of the seasonal Hawaii whale watching cruises between mid-December and mid-April, which depart from all the main islands. Most cruise operators guarantee whale sightings for most of the season.
Hawaii whale watching boats come in all sizes, from rubber rafts that bounce through the surf to large, motorized catamarans. For the best encounters, select a boat that’s stable and comfortable with unobstructed viewing of whales, and a cruise that is dedicated entirely to whale watching. On snorkel cruises you may get glimpses of whales, but limited opportunities to watch them.
One experience not to miss on a Hawaii whale watching cruise is listening to the haunting songs of male whales. Be sure your cruise is equipped with hydrophones so you can hear the whales’ songs during your whale watch.
Daily humpback whale watching tours cost $20 – $60 for adults and $12 – $30 for children age 11 and under. Book your tour several days in advance. Most tours last two to three hours and provide snacks and juice. Some tours offer hotel transportation.
All cruise operators are required to maintain a minimum distance of 100 yards from these protected animals, so bring a good pair of binoculars and a camera with a zoom lens.
Wear hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, swimsuit or casual attire, sweatshirt or light jacket (for early morning or late day cruises), and drink lots of fluids.