Whale Watching in Hawaii

One of the things I was most excited about for a trip to Maui in March was whale watching. By whales, I mean humpback whales. The humpback whale is a species of baleen whale. The adults range in length from 39-52 feet and weigh about 79,000 pounds (Wow! I didn’t realize they were SO big before writing this blog). The humpback whale has a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. Their lifespan is estimated to be between 45-50 years. The humpback whale completes the longest annual migration of any mammal. Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. Its purpose is not clear, though it may have a role in mating.

I saw a few humpback whales when I was in Maui in December 2013 and also saw a few when I was in Alaska last summer but I was hoping to see many more on this trip since March is prime whale season in Maui. I was not disappointed.

We chose to go on a whale watching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation (apparently referred to as Pac Whale by the locals) from Maaleala Harbor, which was next door to our condo. Talk about convenient!

The Pacific Whale Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 to save whales from extinction. According to their website, their mission is to “protect the oceans through science and advocacy.” They do research in Hawaii, Australia and Ecuador.  When possible, I prefer to take tours with organizations that are working to improve the environment and the species that call it home. Therefore, Pacific Whale Foundation was the perfect choice for us! Their website is https://www.pacificwhale.org/cruises/.

We started spotting whales within 10-15 minutes of departing from Maalaea Harbor and probably saw 15-20 whales in total during the two hours we were out on the water. Most of the whales we saw included a mama and a baby since the whales come to the warm waters of Hawaii in the winter to give birth and raise their babies until they are grown enough to make the trek back to Alaska during for the summer. The whales do not eat while they are in Hawaii because there is no food in the area. They eat nonstop during the summer months in Alaska and use that as fuel for the winters in Hawaii. We did see a large breach or two but I did not catch any of them with my camera. I am okay with that since I was there to experience the moment, not take photos (although I have tons of photos from our tour).

The first mama and baby pair we saw


The land mass in the distance of this photo is Molokini. Molokini is a crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater between Maui and Kaho’olawe. It is a scuba diving and snorkeling haven because its crescent shape protects divers and snorkelers from waves and the channel’s powerful currents. I went scuba diving around Molokini in December 2013 and there was a lot to see (fish, rays and coral) under the water.

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A couple of Bottlenose dolphins decided to join our tour too! DSC_0727


The water is so blue. I could not stop staring at it in awe. DSC_0733

A military helicopter flying overDSC_0758

Every humpback whale has a unique pattern on its tail fin, which helps researchers identify them.


My favorite moment of the tour, and possibly my favorite moment of the whole trip to Maui, happened about halfway into this tour. A mama and baby whale swam directly under our boat and came to the surface about 10 feet from where I was standing on the boat. It was AMAZING! I will not forget that moment anytime soon. Everyone on the boat was so excited.

The two photos directly below show the outline of the mama whale as it was swimming under us.


And then it surfaced. So so so cool! I was mesmerized.DSC_0784DSC_0785DSC_0786DSC_0792DSC_0802

The baby is along side her below. DSC_0807DSC_0809

The shot below is my favorite of the tail fin photos I took on the tour.DSC_0886DSC_0887

There are lots of wind towers on Maui. We saw these on the tour and also flew over them when landing in Maui from San Francisco.


Kids on the tour were encouraged to come to the front of the boat during the last 15-20 minutes of the tour where one of the Pacific Whale Foundation’s researchers told them more about whales and had a few hands on items for them to hold. I thought it was a neat way to get the kids involved and interested.


Overall, this was a great tour. I think it was the cheapest organized tour we did in Maui too. It was ~$45 per person, which is a steal for anything in Maui. The only oddity about the tour was that they required everyone boarding to have their photo taken. Their reason for this was to help them count the number of people on board. They then had employees count the number of people on board again after we departed from Maalaea Harbor. I have never seen this before and am not sure why they were so particular about the photo ( I tried to talk my way out of having to have my photo taken to no avail). I wonder if they have funding or grants tied to the number of people they take on tours? Anyway, other than this, I only have great things to say about the Pacific Whale Foundation and its employees. I highly recommend them if you plan to join a whale watching tour while in Hawaii.


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