Whale Watching Season in Maui: Times & Tours

Published on:
November 6, 2023

Whale watching season in Maui transforms the island's waters into a dynamic marine stage, where the magnificent humpback whales play the starring role. Known for its breathtaking beaches and the impressive Haleakalā volcano, Maui, the second-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, boasts the awe-inspiring sight of these majestic creatures.

The whales embark on an annual migration to the island's warm, welcoming seas, captivating observers and enhancing the natural splendor of the area. Dive in with us as we explore the when, where, and how to immerse yourself in the best whale watching experiences Maui has to offer.  

When is Whale Watching Season in Maui?

When is Whale Watching Season in Maui?
A humpback whale in the waters of Maui is showcasing its powerful fluke (tail) as it dives into the ocean's surface. The lifted fluke, glistening with water droplets and set against the deep blue backdrop of the sea, is a common sight during Maui's whale watching season. Photo by Andrew Bain.

December to April, during the winter months and early spring, is when the ocean becomes a fascinating environment for humpback whale sightings in Maui. These months are when the whales migrate from the cold Alaskan waters to the warm Hawaiian seas for breeding and birthing.

For those aiming to catch the peak of the season, make plans for January through March. This is when whale activity reaches its crescendo, with a higher frequency of sightings and whale behavior such as breaching, tail slapping, and even singing, particularly noticeable.


The Best Months for Whale Watching in Maui

Peak whale watching season in Maui is typically from mid-January to March. This window is when the humpback whales are not only plentiful but also particularly active above the water. The calves, growing stronger, begin to mimic their mothers, breaching and slapping the water with newfound vigor.

Moreover, this period is often graced by the dramatic displays of competitive pods, where groups of males engage in riveting displays of strength and agility to court females. These behaviors, set against the backdrop of Maui's stunning vistas, provide onlookers with a sense of the raw power and beauty of these marine mammals.

What Time Do Whales Come Out in Maui?

Whale sightings in Maui can occur at any time of day, but mornings between 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM, are often considered the prime time for whale watching. The sea conditions are usually more placid, providing excellent visibility for spotting whales and a more comfortable boat ride. The morning light creates a soft glow on the water, enhancing visibility for both spotting the whales and photographing their spectacular breaches and playful tail slaps.

Conversely, late afternoon whale tours, particularly around 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM, offer a different experience. The sun's angle during this time can backlight the whales’ activities, creating a warm, golden glow that makes for dramatic visuals. This light can be especially enchanting as it plays off the water spray from a whale’s spout or highlights the details in a tail or fin as it rises from the sea. Regardless, of whether you prefer the vibrant morning light or the golden hues of the late afternoon, whale watching in Maui promises a memorable experience for every observer.

Where Can You See Whales from Kihei, Maui?

Where Can You See Whales from Kihei, Maui?
A humpback whale in the waters off Maui is performing what’s known as a “breach.” This breathtaking moment encapsulates the raw beauty and splendor of nature that visitors to Maui are fortunate to witness during the whale-watching season. Photo by Saroj Bhandari.

In Kihei, a particular hotspot for whale watching is the stretch of water between Maalaea Bay and the Molokini Crater. Here, the channel provides a haven for the humpback whales that migrate to the Hawaiian waters. Observers on the coast can frequently spot whales breaching the surface or engaging in other surface behaviors like spy-hopping or pectoral fin slaps.

A favored vantage point is from the observation areas of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, where the elevated outlooks provide an unobstructed view of the majestic humpbacks in the surrounding waters. In the peak season, which typically runs from January to March, these sanctuaries offer a front-row seat to witness the whales in their natural habitat.


Whale Watching Tours in Maui from Kihei

Whale Watching Tours in Maui from Kihei
This humpback whale is positioned with its ventral side facing the camera, allowing for a clear view of its extended pectoral fin and the textured patterns of tubercles on its head. The shimmering surface of the water above creates a mesmerizing reflection of the whale's massive body, emphasizing the serene environment in which these gentle giants dwell. Photo by Chinh Le Duc.

While the peak season is a reliable time for sightings, the exact timing and frequency of whale appearances can vary year to year. Early morning whale tours are often recommended for the calmest sea conditions and the best light for photography. Booking a tour with operators who practice respectful wildlife viewing and contribute to the conservation of these magnificent animals can add a sense of purpose to the exhilarating experience of whale watching in Kihei.

For whale-watching enthusiasts staying in Kihei, the proximity to Maalaea Harbor and the Kihei Boat Ramp presents an excellent opportunity to embark on memorable tours without extensive travel time. Here's a focused overview of the most popular tours available near Kihei, Maui:

  • Pacific Whale Foundation: Launching from Maalaea Harbor, a mere 20-minute drive from Kihei, the Pacific Whale Foundation is one of the most renowned organizations for whale watching. They offer an array of tours that combine the spectacle of humpback whale watching with educational insights, delivered by their expert naturalists. Their convenient departure point makes it a top choice for those residing in or near Kihei.
  • Redline Rafting: For a departure point that’s as close as it gets to Kihei, Redline Rafting starts its tours right from the Kihei Boat Ramp in South Maui. They specialize in small group tours that utilize high-speed rafts to bring guests up close to the whales in an exhilarating fashion. Their proximity and the unique tour experience they provide make them a favorite for adventure seekers.
  • Blue Water Rafting: Also utilizing the Kihei Boat Ramp, Blue Water Rafting offers a similar thrilling whale watching experience with the advantage of smaller, agile rafts for intimate and exciting encounters. For those eager to minimize travel time to the harbor and maximize their time on the water, Blue Water Rafting presents an excellent option.
  • MCC Four Winds and Maui Magic Snorkel Tour Boats: While these vessels are primarily geared toward snorkeling adventures, during the whale season they offer the added bonus of whale watching opportunities. As they navigate the waters for snorkeling destinations, sightings of majestic humpback whales are a common delight. The Four Winds II and Maui Magic both depart from Maalaea Harbor, conveniently located for those in Kihei, making it an easy trip for a day packed with snorkeling and whale watching.

The whale watching tours from these providers typically range from two to three hours, with some extending to five hours with additional activities such as snorkeling and exploration. This gives guests ample time to observe and appreciate the beautiful humpback whales in their natural habitat. Some tours might extend the experience by combining it with snorkeling activities in areas like the Molokini Crater, providing an even richer adventure.

When planning your whale watch tour from Kihei, it’s wise to book in advance, especially during the peak season from December to March. This ensures you secure a spot on the tour of your choice and don’t miss out on this extraordinary opportunity to witness one of nature's most incredible migrations.


Maui Whales: Species, Behavior, Culture

Maui Whales: Species, Behavior, Culture
A humpback whale serenely swims just below the ocean's surface, bathed in rays of sunlight that contrast the ocean depths. Photo by Oliver Tsappis.

While the humpback whale is the star of the show during whale season in Maui, these waters are also frequented by other species of whale such as sperm whales, baleen whales, and even the elusive false killer whales. Each species brings its unique behaviors and interactions to the Hawaiian waters.

Humpbacks, scientifically known as Megaptera novaeangliae, are renowned for their acrobatic displays, from the powerful breaching to gentle tail slapping. The North Pacific humpback whale population travels to the Hawaiian islands to take advantage of the area's lack of natural predators and the warm waters conducive to birthing and raising their calves. The annual migration from the cold Alaskan waters to the tropical Hawaiian oceans is one of the most impressive animal migrations on the planet.

The cultural significance of whales to Maui and the broader Hawaiian islands is profound. The sight of a breaching whale has long been a source of inspiration and reverence within Hawaiian culture. Many local legends speak of whales as protectors and guides, and their annual winter migration is a time of joy and celebration on the islands.

Witnessing the humpback whale's beautiful songs and complex communication between whales is an unforgettable experience. Many tours provide hydrophones so you can listen to the haunting whale song, which plays a vital role in their social behaviors and mating rituals.

Whale Watching and Marine Conservation in Maui

Whale Watching and Marine Conservation in Maui
Lahaina, Maui. A pair of humpback whales can be seen gracefully gliding just beneath the surface of the ocean. Their backs and dorsal fins break the water's surface, leaving gentle ripples in their wake. Photo by Colton Jones.

Whale watching in Maui serves as a vital educational platform, emphasizing the critical need for ocean sustainability and the protection of marine life. The presence of whales in the waters around Maui is a sight of the success of conservation efforts. Humpback whales, once endangered, are now protected by international law and are a conservation success story.

In Maui, strict regulations are in place to ensure whale watching is conducted responsibly. Vessels are required to maintain a safe distance from the whales to prevent disturbance, allowing us to observe these magnificent creatures without impeding their natural behaviors or putting them at risk. By participating in whale watching with reputable operators, visitors contribute to the local economy which supports sustainable tourism practices and further conservation efforts.

This engagement with whales also deepens our understanding of their critical role in the marine ecosystem. As key indicators of ocean health and vital contributors to nutrient cycling, whales support the life of the oceans on which human life also greatly depends. Through sustainable whale watching, we not only witness the majesty of these creatures but also join the global effort to preserve them.

Planning a stay in Kihei, Maui, and eager to indulge in some of the best whale watching the island has to offer? Make The Hale Pau Hana your sanctuary of choice. Situated in the heart of South Maui's pristine beachfront, our resort offers a harmonious mix of leisure and adventure. After a thrilling day at sea or exploring the local landscape, retreat to the comfort of your ocean-view room. Book your stay today and secure your unforgettable Maui experience!

Join us on Facebook and Instagram @theHalePauHana and become part of our community of explorers. 🐋🌅🌺

Cover photo by Steve Wrzeszczynski.

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