Each year, Oahu's shallow, tropical waters teem with seasonal visitors—humpback whales that depart chilly Alaska for tropical Hawaii to mate and give birth. Here's what you need to know about where to go and how to spot them.
When to Go
The arrival of the season's first humpback whale—usually between August and October—is a big deal on the islands. Whale season is in full swing by November and winds down with the majority of whales departing by April. If you'll be viewing whales by boat, opt for an early morning tour when seas are calm and before the afternoon heat sets in.
What You'll See
You'll know you've spotted a whale by its spout—the characteristic funnel-shaped breath of aerated water particles shot dozens of feet above the surface. It's not uncommon to see humpbacks breaching in the waters around Oahu, smacking down in epic belly flops and leaving behind eerily still "footprints." You can also spot whales by their flukes or fins flapping at the surface.
Humpback whales aren’t the only creatures you might spot on an Oahu-based whale-watching tour. In addition to a host of seabirds such as petrels, tropicbirds, and albatross, pilot whales, Hawaiian spinner dolphins, and even the rare killer whale have been spotted. If you're very lucky, you may even catch sight of a Hawaiian monk seal, the most endangered seal species on the planet.
How to Go
Whale-watching tours are the best way to learn about and get great photos of these breaching behemoths up close. A number of speedboat, pontoon, and sailboat tours depart from areas around Waikiki—especially from Kewalo Basin Harbor opposite Ala Moana Beach Park—as well as from the North Shore and the western leeward side of the island. It may also be possible to spot humpbacks from points along the shoreline, with some hiking tours visiting good whale-watching spots. Popular lookouts for spout-spotting include the paths atop Diamondhead Crater and along the Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail.