Whale watching in Maui is one of the most amazing marine wildlife adventures – a chance to witness the majesty of the North Pacific Humpback Whales in their natural environment. Year, after year, these magical mammals grace Hawaiian waters and shorelines for their annual Winter migration through the North Pacific Ocean (roughly November-May).
Hawaii’s Kohola (whales in the ancient Hawaiian language), also known as the Central North Pacific stock, migrate between Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands.
The exact number of Humpback whales that visit Hawaii every year is unknown. Some speculate that 1/3 of the total population of North Pacific Humpback Whales arrive in Hawaii every year, others stating that it could be 1/2 of the total population. But, it is also a fact that the majority of Humpback calves born each year are also born in Hawaii.
North Pacific Humpback Whales are the fifth largest whale species in the world, and can weigh anywhere between 25-40 tons. On average, the North Pacific Humpback Whale can live for about 50-years (although there have been accounts living up to 90-years).
The North Pacific Humpback Whales feed on small crustaceans, krill, plankton and small fish. Humpback’s don’t ever feed in Hawaii’s oceans; they only feed during their Alaskan Summers, focusing on storing strength and the blubber that they will live off of during their annual Winter migration to Hawaii.
Kohola (Humpback Whales) have been visiting Hawaii since the ancient Polynesian Era. Archeologists have found Kohola petroglyphs in Olowalu on Maui, Pohue on the Big Island, and Palaoa Hill (Whale Hill) on the Island of Lanai. The petroglyphs depict an ancient human figure riding the back of a whale.
In Hawaii, the North Pacific Humpback Whale is believed to be an aumukua (ancestors), and a direct representation of Kanaloa, the divine and supreme Hawaiian demigod of ocean animals.
Hawaii’s North Pacific Humpback Whales travel over 3,500-miles from Alaskan waters to Hawaiian oceans every year during their annual Winter migration. It is believed that each one-way journey can take up to 4-6 weeks, and as little as 36 days. It is also believed that an average of 8,000-10,000 Humpback Whales visit Hawaii every year, and the number is growing with the increase in population.
The Humpback’s travel from the cold Alaskan waters to the warm, subtropical climate of Hawaiian oceans for three main reasons; to breed, to birth, and to raise their young calves in safety. Humpback Whales have an 11 to 12-month gestational period, so baby Humpback calves are both conceived and birthed in Hawaii. So, it is safe to assume that last season’s breeding, becomes the following season’s birthing.
Towards the end of the Winter Season, during Hawaii’s first months of Spring, it is quite common to see the quickly growing Humpback Whale calves frolic and play on the surface of the ocean. In Hawaiian waters, the baby calves will learn the motor skills and vital masteries that are necessary for survival.
Season after season in Hawaii, the Whale Songs are recorded by multiple non-profits and vested marine life protection groups. There is such a meticulous pattern to their songs that it has been noted that where they stop the song at the end of a season, is where they pick right up again in the beginning of the next. It is possible to hear them under water when you’re swimming or snorkeling near the Humpback Whales. On Maui, you can hear the whale song while underwater in West Maui; Lahaina, Ka’anapali, and Kapalua beaches.
The Island of Maui is without a doubt the best place to be in Hawaii for whale watching from the shoreline. You can also watch the Humpback Whales off shore in South Maui coastal areas (Kihei and Wailea), and off of North Shore beaches (Paia Bay, and Ho’okipa Beach Park).