Like dark submarines traversing the ocean depths, more than 10,000 humpback whales migrate to the Hawaiian Islands every year, filling the waters with sub aquatic shapes and sounds. Traveling 3,000 miles from the chilly waters of Alaska, the humpback whales arrive to the Hawaiian Islands between November and April to mate, calve, and nurse their young. Known as Kohola to the Hawaiian people, humpback whales are considered aumakua, or family guardians.
The humpback whales' influence on the Hawaiian Islands dates to the 1800s when Lahaina was considered the Pacific's most significant whaling port. The Auau Channel between Maui and Lanai offers the endangered humpback whales shallow and calm water to pass the winter. This area of the Hawaiian Islands has been deemed the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the country's only federal, single-species sanctuary.
This sanctuary creates one of the best locations in the North Pacific to view these remarkable creatures. Many operators offer whale watching tours by boat, but with a good set of binoculars and a bit of patience, the humpback whales can be spotted directly from the shores of Maui.
For a wealth of information on humpback whales and the Hawaiian Islands visit: hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov
- Best locales for whale watching:
- • McGregor Point - Located at mile marker #9 on the Honoapiilani Highway, this point offers sweeping view of the ocean.
- • Wailea Beach Marriot Resort & Spa - This hotel has installed a telescope as a public service and is located directly on the Wailea Coastal Walk.
- • Puu Olai - Located near Prince Hotel, this is rated as the best spot for offshore whale-watching. Although a rather steep climb proceeds the vantage point, you will be rewarded with a less-crowded area and unobstructed views.
- Offshore whale-watching tips:
- • Always check the weather prior to planning a whale-watching excursion. Increased wind and poor sea states reduce the likelihood of spotting the humpback whales.
- • Bring a pair of binoculars, but also remember to use your bare eyes as well to avoid missing the action.
- • A camera with a large zoom will produce the "water droplet" shots.
- • Scan the horizon for the humpbacks' "blow" which looks like a misty cloud.
- • Remember that the whales are a protected species and by law you must remain 100 yards (300 feet) from them at all times.
- Reputable tour operators:
- • Pacific Whale Foundation - extensive knowledge and a variety of tours: www.pacificwhale.org
- • Maui Princess - large, fast boats that reduce the amount of travel time while ensuring comfort: www.mauiprincess.com/whales
- • Captain Steve's Rafting Excursions - for a truly memorable and up-close experience: www.captainsteves.com/maui_whale_watching_tours