Each year, more than 4,000 migrating humpback whales journey from chilly Alaska to frolic, mate, and give birth in the shallow, warm waters off Hawaii. Here's what you need to know to see the breaching beasts on whale-watching tours in Maui.
When to Go
Whale-watching season in the Hawaiian islands runs from early November until May, but your best chance of spotting whales is during the peak months of January to March. Each February, the Pacific Whale Foundation hosts the week-long Maui Whale Festival with a run/walk, film festival, parades, whale counts, and more celebrating the islands' most popular annual visitors.
What You'll See
The 45-foot-long (14-meter) Pacific humpback whales congregate in large numbers in the shallow Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai, and Lanai—making Maui whale-watching tours some of the best in Hawaii. Whale watchers typically see spouting and almost always catch breaching belly-flops, tail smacks, and fin-flapping behaviors. If you're lucky, you could also spot new mothers with their calves or get "mugged" by a whale that chooses to come in close for a cameo.
How to Go
While sightings are possible from land during whale season, many whale-watching tours feature marine naturalists well-versed in Hawaii's marine life (and often, traditional Hawaiian lore surrounding the whales) and captains able to maneuver for up-close experiences. Whale-watching tours depart from Lahaina Harbor, Kaanapali, Kihei, and Wailea and typically last two to five hours. Most whale-watching cruises depart in the morning when the ocean is calmest and conditions make it easier to spot whales.