Hawaii Whale Watching [Best Time to See Whales in Hawaii]

The Hawaiian Islands bring all sorts of visitors from around the world for its idyllic weather, beautiful beaches and unparalleled landscapes.

If the mystery and beauty of marine life are one of your reasons for a visit to the islands, you’ll want to make sure you’ve planned for the right time to visit Hawaii.

Hawaii is known as a top destination for whale watching, especially for an estimated two-thirds of the North American population of Humpback Whales that vacation in Hawaii to breed, calve and nurse their young after a long trip through the ocean to the Gulf of Alaska and back.

And while the whales do take an extended reprieve near the islands, they are not there year-round, and there may be better areas than others to catch a glimpse at their immense beauty.

So read on to discover what is the best Hawaiian island for whale watching and start planning your Hawaii adventure right away!

Key Takeaways…

  • Hawaii’s whale-watching season runs from November to May, with peak months in January and February.
  • Humpback whales are the primary species observed, with two-thirds of the North American population visiting Hawaii.
  • Top whale-watching locations include the Kohala Coast on the Big Island, Maui’s western coastline, and Kauai’s north and west coasts.
  • A variety of tours are available, including boat cruises, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard experiences, with prices ranging from $52 to $205 per adult.
  • Maui is considered the best island for whale watching, particularly in the waters between Maui and Molokai.

When is Whale Season in Hawaii

Officially, whale-watching season in Hawaii begins in November and ends in May. Peak months for whale-watching are January and February. Like most animals that migrate, the Humpback whales move around the Pacific Ocean based on food sources.

During the summer months, the whales will be found around their feeding grounds in the Polar Regions of the Pacific, where food sources of krill, plankton and small fish are abundant.

When the harsh winters set in, their food sources become scarce, sending the whales to travel more than 3000 miles to find the comfort of the tropics.

Most of them (scientists estimate two-thirds of the North American Humpback population) find the islands around Hawaii to be the perfect place to take a much-needed vacation (and really, who wouldn’t, right?).

So to get the most out of your whale-watching experience, you’ll want to make sure you’re vacationing at the same time as the Humpbacks.

Humpback Whales Migrate to Hawaii - Hawaiianly.com

When Do Whales Migrate to Hawaii

According to Hawaii Wildlife Fund’s website, whales beginning migrating to Hawaii in November. The mother whales nursing their calves arrive first in mid to late November, followed by juveniles and newly weaned yearlings. Then, adult males arrive, along with adult females without young.

The last to arrive will be the pregnant females who will stay in Alaska to feed until the very last possible time before making the trip to their summer home.

It is rarer to see the whales in November and it is also less likely you will see whales in May as they will all be gone by the end of the month.

In the summer months of June through September, you’re unlikely to see any, as they have all gone back north to feed their bellies again.

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The tropical waters are not necessarily suitable for feeding but are good places to breed, birth and wean the young.

It is incredible to see these animals swim, flip their tails, and frolic in the ocean waters.

You’ll have to pull yourself away if you have more sights to see because it can become addicting.

Just as important as when to see the whales is where, so let’s explore the possibilities here.

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Can You See Whales From the Big Island?

Yes, you can see whales from the Big Island! The Big Island is one of the most popular islands to see the majestic Humpback whales and just one of the many reasons to go to Hawaii in the first place.

But you must be strategic about it.

The Big Island is, well, big, and not all coasts are the same, so make sure you know where to be!

Some of the best areas for viewing whales on the Big Island are Hilo Bay on the east side and north of Kona and up the Kohala Coast.

When & Where Can You See Whales in Kona?

The Kohala Coast is frequently known as the best area of Hawaii for whale watching. Some say Kohala is Hawaiian for the Humpback whale, and there is evidence to show that this beautiful beast has been visiting the waters near Hawaii since ancient times.

While the beginning of the season is the same as above (November), the end of the season appears to be on the earlier side in April.

Peak months, again, are January and February.

The whales are very active during the day, but reports have shown that early birds before 8:00 am, see more whales on average, but many others say they have seen more activity around sunset.

The bottom line is that you should keep binoculars on, take a tour or listen to the songs of the whales all day long.

And while you’re whale-watching in Kona, you should make sure to head to Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, which translates to “Temple on the Hill of the Whale”, and according to explorationhawaii.com, “This site preserves the ruins of Hawaii’s last major ancient temple.”

It is a must-see, hand-built, historical landmark in this breathtaking part of the island.

When is Whale Season in Maui

Plan your trip to Maui in February to see whales from Maui’s shoreline. The beautiful western coastline of Maui is where many visitors have seen the magic of the whales simply looking out the window from their coastal resort or vacation rental.

When Can You See Whales in Maui? - Hawaiianly

Why February?

Well, you certainly can book your trip to see the whales any time during the whale watching season, but in February on Maui, you are bound to get swept away in some activity related to the Maui Whale Festival.

The proceeds support Pacific Whale Foundation’s humpback whale research in Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific.

As well as marine education programs for local school children and conservation programs, including efforts to keep marine debris out of our oceans, prevent vessel-whale collisions, and end whaling worldwide.

Maui Whale Festival kicks off the first weekend in February with a 1 mile, 5K, 10K, or 10-mile walk/run course to engage all levels and abilities.

But the festivities go on all month, including a film festival and a Harbor Part in Maalaea Bay.

And if you feel like venturing away from the crowd around Maalaea to find other ways to look for the majestic creatures slapping and diving through the waters, then take the 30 to 45-minute drive on Highway 30 between Maalaea Bay and Lahaina.

But heed a word of warning…be careful when you’re driving. It is easy to get lost in the mesmerizing beauty of the ocean and these magnificent creatures of the sea and forget that you’re operating a vehicle.

And if you think this would never be you — don’t count on it — but also, watch out for others who will likely be doing the same.

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What About Whale Watching on Kauai?

Yes, you can see the whales while in Kauai, too! The best, whale-populated areas are around the north and west coasts of Kauai. Ashley and I can attest to that as we enjoyed watching these magnificent creatures breach the ocean from our balcony in Princeville.

Kilauea Lighthouse on the north side of Kauai has officially been designated as a humpback whale marine sanctuary by the Federal government.

And there are opportunities to see whale activity in and around Poipu, which according to some travelers, houses the best beaches in the world.

Poipu is located on the southern coast of Kauai. While there, scope out the whales in Shipwreck’s Beach, Makahuena Point, Poipu Beach and Spouting Horn.

Looking into the colorful canyon of Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai

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Hawaii Whale Watching Tours

During whale-watching season, you don’t have to get in the water to experience the playful activities of the Humpback whales in Hawaii.

If you don’t mind getting out in the open waters, then you’ll want to book yourself a tour that will take you as close as 100 feet from these alluring animals.

Big Island Whale Watching Tours

If you’re near Kona, check out Capt. Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watching Tours. Captain Dan is a whale researcher, conservationist, and whale watch captain.

Join Captain Dan as he leads and educates you on the 3-hour tour doing what he loves and sharing that information with you.

And even if you’ve come too early or too late and hear “the whales are all gone,” he says to give him a call, and he’ll let you know if that’s true or, most likely, not. Cost: $120

Maui Whale Watching Tours

Pride of Maui Whale Watching Tour: The online price of $52 includes a 2-hour ride in a glass-bottom boat, gear for snorkeling along a coral reef, and lunch. There is also an option for a sunset, adults-only cruise with cocktails and music.

Leilani Whale Watching Small Group Tour: This 5-hour tour leaves at 7:30 am from Maalaea Harbor for around $100, but you can save by booking online. The generous price point includes breakfast, lunch and a selection of beverages, including some alcohol if that’s your thing.

Or, if you are looking for more of an active whale watching experience, contact Hawaiian Paddle Sports. Head out on an Outrigger Canoe, kayak or a Stand Up Paddleboard. Their tours are a little more expensive, currently priced at $189, but it will be an experience you’ll never forget!

Maui Eco Tours: These tours also offer a Kayak or Stand Up Paddleboard experience with prices ranging from $85-$199 depending on the tour. This company also has two different tour times for families with younger children and one tour for adults (age 16+) only.

Kauai Whale Watching Tours

Capt Andy’s cruise takes you along the Na Pali Coast. Four to 5.5-hour tours are offered throughout the day and include a meal. Prices range from $165 for children to $205 per adult. They also have a two-hour Sunset cruise option.

Blue Dolphin Kauai offers a 2-hour Poipu Whale Watching Tour for under $120 (you can save by booking online in advance). This 2-hour tour includes hydrophones for hearing the whales, appetizers, water, juice, soft drinks, and for the above 21 crowds, unlimited beer, wine & Mai Tais are available.

Which Hawaiian Island is the Best for Whale Watching

The consensus is that Maui offers the best whale watching opportunities, mainly on the western side in the waters between Maui and Molakai. Visit between January and March and make sure to book a local charter boat to see these amazing humpback whales in abundance and up close!

Wrapping It Up…

Whether you use one of these options or find another that fits your family and budget better, whale watching in Hawaii is a magical experience that can easily be checked off your bucket list if you plan for it.

Check out our Google Web Story – When is Whale Watching Season in Hawaii

What is your favorite Hawaii island to whale watch? Tell us in the comments below!

Best Hawaii Island for Whale Watching - Hawaiianly.com

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