Humpback whale breaching the water
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The Best Guide To Maui Whale Watching

Whale watching in Maui is one of those bucket list experiences that is awe-inspiring and phenomenal to see! Imagine 1,000s of whales hanging out in one spot? Use this Maui whale watching guide to learn everything you need to know about whale watching in Hawaii.

Get ready to be amazed at the sheer size of these gigantic and magnificent whales as they breach the water, play, and sing you an alluring song.

Whales in Maui are mesmerizing to watch as if they are putting on a show just for you to enjoy!

It is a beautiful sight to see a whales tail while Maui whale watching
It is a beautiful sight to see a whale’s tail!

Whales migrating back to the welcoming waters of Maui is a homecoming Hawaiians have looked forward to each year.

Hawaiians have always admired and held whales in high esteem as they are perceived as family guardians or aumakaua.

Where Is Maui?

Maui is one of the eight islands that make up the Hawaiian Islands or commonly referred to as Hawaii.

The islands of Hawaii are located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,400-miles off the west coast of California and one of the 50 states of the USA.

From many hotels you can look out and see the whales in the distance
From many hotels, you can look out and see the whales in the distance

Although there are eight islands, only 6 receive visitors to their fragrant islands. Maui is one of the four largest islands in Hawaii to visit along with Oahu, the Big Island (Hawaii), and Kauai. As far as visitors go, Maui is the second most visited island after Oahu.

How To Get To Maui

So, unless you are an insanely good swimmer or have your own yacht, you will be flying to the Hawaiian Islands!

Whether you are flying from within the United States or another country, you will likely have a layover on or near the west coast of the United States.

View of the mountains on Maui from the ocean
Maui is an island that you want to have a car to roam around

From Los Angeles or San Francisco, the flight time to Hawaii is about 5.5 to 6 hours direct. For years you could only fly into Honolulu, Oahu and then take a smaller plane to the other islands.

You still might have to but nowadays more than likely you can get a flight straight to the island of your choice.

When booking your flight, purchase your ticket to Kahului Airport (OGG) which is the main airport on the island of Maui.

Unless you only want to hang out at your resort the entire trip, I highly recommend renting a car so that you can see the different areas of this diverse island!

Where To Stay In Maui

Every section of Maui is gorgeous and offers up the most beautiful beaches for you to choose from. Having said that there are a few areas that offer the best combination of excellent hotels, location, beaches, and things to do.

Whether you stay near Wailea or Kaanapali, you will have excellent beaches!
Whether you stay near Wailea or Kaanapali, you will have excellent beaches!

The best areas that I recommend staying in are Wailea, Kihei, Lahaina, and Kaanapali. I have stayed at each of these locations many times and have enjoyed them all. Staying in Kihei is the most economical and has mostly condos and Airbnb options.

Book A Whale Watching Tour!

The Pacific Whale Foundation offers a variety of whale watching tours and guarentees that if you don’t see whales, you can go again for free!

Plus what I really enjoyed about taking a tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation is that they have the best reputation for education, ecotourism, and a pledge to protect and preserve the ocean.

Note: It is currently not whale watching season but I will update with whale watching tours when available. Until then, explore the top tours to take on Maui!

Maui Eco-Friendly Molokini & Turtle Town Tour – Take a boat ride out to the best snorkeling spots on the island plus lunch included!

Lahaina Turtle Town Afternoon Snorkel Excursion – Enjoy an afternoon snorkel excursion at Lahaina’s Turtle Town!

Maui Deluxe Sail Sunset Tour – Sail on a deluxe catamaran and take in the stunning sunset along the coast from Lahaina!

Maui Haleakala National Park Sunrise Tour – Take an early morning tour up to the summit of Haleakala National Park and watch the sunrise with breakfast after. A bucket list experience!

Maui Whale Watching Guide

Whale Watching In Hawaii

Where is the best place to go whale watching in Hawaii? If you didn’t already guess, Maui has the greatest volume of whales that migrate past it. The whale activity really is a spectacular phenomenon to witness as they are in abundance off the shores of Maui.

Three whales swimming together showing how Maui is the best island for whale watching in Hawaii
Maui is the best island for whale watching in Hawaii

If you plan to be traveling to the other islands, you can definitely see them off of Oahu and the Big Island but the highest concentration of whales will pass through the Auau Channel between the islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Maui.

Hands down, if you want the best whale watching in Hawaii experience then Maui is the place to be! Maui might even be one of the best destinations in the world to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals…

Types Of Whales In Maui

I bet you are wondering at this point what types of whales can be seen in Maui, right? The main whales that you will see off the coast of Maui in the Auau Channel are humpback whales or kohola. It is astonishing at the volume of whales in Maui you can see!

Two humpback whales playing
Humpback whales are the primary whale you will see in abundance

It is estimated that about 12,000 to 14,000 humpback whales migrate to this channel between Maui and Lanai to breed, calve, and play in the tropical waters of Hawaii.

Adult male humpback whales can get up to 52 feet and weigh up to 45+ tons!

Water flowing off of a whale tail
Around 14,000 whales will migrate to Maui each year!

These whales are enormous and most likely bigger than the boat you are in. It is mesmerizing to watch them swim and frolic even with their massive size and should be on every person’s bucket list!

For their protection, Hawaii has designated their islands a Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Note: You will see plenty of dolphins and possibly you might catch a glimpse of pilot whales and sperm whales.

Maui Whale Season

The official Maui whale season is from December through April but if you want to catch the peak season then January, February, and March are the best.

Can you imagine seeing and hearing 1,000s of whales migrating before your eyes?

About 2/3 of the North Pacific humpback whale population leave from Alaska and journey south to the warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands. The long swim takes about 6-8 weeks to reach the Hawaiian Islands.

They are specifically located in the highest numbers in the Auau Channel off Maui’s coast to mate, give birth, and nurse their young.

A whale tail sticking up as if waving
A whale tail sticking up as if waving!

The whales come to Maui for its warm waters which make for a nice environment for having baby whales or calves. Some other key reasons they like coming to the Auau Channel each year is for the incredible ocean visibility and no natural predators.

In other words, it is a huge whale nursery that has it all for birthing and raising their young. If you are lucky you might begin to spot the first whales arriving as early as the beginning of October.

January through March is the best time for Maui whale watching!
January through March is the best time for Maui whale watching!

Surprisingly, all the adult whales forgo eating during the months they are in Maui as they have been feeding in excess in Alaska before the trek south. The main reason for this is that there is no food for them in these waters.

The baby calves feed only on the mother’s milk drinking so much that they can gain up to 10 pounds per hour… That is one big baby!

Two whales swimming in parallel
Make a point to listen the whale song above or under the water!

Tip: Whether you are on the shore, on a boat or in the ocean, listen to the whales. I don’t quite understand how, but each year the “song” changes. How cool is that?

Whale Behavior

Maui whale watching is an exciting activity as the whales appear to display numerous behaviors that will leave you in awe!

From a boat or a kayak, you can watch the humpback whales perform what seems like acrobatics breaching the water and slamming their fins. They look quite happy and as if they are having a party with some of these fintastic moves!

It is quite astonishing that anything weighing up to 50 tons can launch its body, clear the water and land in a very graceful manner. There are a few whale behaviors you will quickly notice and make you wonder why on earth are they doing that…

Blow

One of the most common behaviors that you can see from a distance is whales blowing air out of their blowhole. The whales are blowing out air and water so that they can take a breath when they surface. Whales must come to the surface about every 7-15 minutes to breathe as they are mammals!

It is pretty easy to spot a whale blowing air
It is pretty easy to spot a whale blowing air
A pair of whales blowing in unison
A pair of whales blowing in unison

Breach

Witnessing a humpback whale breach the water or thrust most if not their entire body out of the water and making a big splash landing is magical. It appears that this is a form of communication between each other, may attract other whales or even warn off the males. Breaching may help remove unwanted parasites or barnacles off of the whale too.

It's incredible how they can lift their bodies out of the water!
It’s incredible how they can lift their bodies out of the water!

Tail Slapping

Tail slapping is another popular movement you will see among the whales. They might be slapping their side fins or in a more grandeur way slapping their tail. It is thought that they slap the water to communicate or scare off other animals.

Waiting to see a whale slap the water with its fin
Waiting to see a whale slap the water with its fin
For such a large animal, they are so graceful to watch...
For such a large animal, they are so graceful to watch…
Their fins make quite the splash!
Their fins make quite the splash!

Spy-Hopping

Spy-hopping is when the whale’s head comes up vertical out of the water and appears to be spying on you! Rather just checking out what is happening above the water before going back under. From a distance, most of these behaviors appear playful and an entertaining way to communicate.

A whale peaking its head up or spy-hopping
A whale peaking its head up or spy-hopping

Note: As tempting as it might be to get close to these captivating giants, you must stay 100 yards away from them. Of course, they might come up to you but respect their space especially as they will likely have the young calves (babies) with them.

What To Expect On A Whale Watching Tour In Maui

There are several ways you can go whale watching in Maui with various types of boats. The main difference is the size of the boat that will determine the number of people on board. And if they can provide educational information on the humpback whales.

You need to keep a 100 yard distance from the whales
You need to keep a 100-yard distance from the whales

A larger boat will have more stability, restrooms, make moving around easier, and less likely to get seasick. The smaller boats will have a bumpier ride, no options to move around but are quicker to maneuver if there is a whale sighting.

This playful whale is showing off its tail!
This playful whale is showing off its tail!

I chose the Pacific Whale Foundation whale watching excursion as they have the best reputation for education, ecotourism, and a pledge to protect and preserve the ocean.

A whale swimming close to a boat
When the whales come close to the boats you can see their enormous size!

The Pacific Whale Foundation offers a variety of whale watching tours with the two most popular listed below.

Whalewatch Lahaina| Ma’alaea – choose from either a morning or afternoon tour that lasts about 2 hours and is the most popular choice. It is on a larger boat that has both inside and outside with large decks for viewing the whales. The tour is led by Marine Naturalists which is a plus.

Note: The Pacific Whale Foundation guarantees whale sightings or you can go again free. Can’t beat that offer! There is a snack and beverage bar including alcohol that can be purchased on board.

Whalewatch Sail Lahaina – If you prefer sailing then the morning sail from Lahaina takes off on a luxury catamaran that holds up to 49 people. Also led by a Marine Naturalist in search of whales. There is also a snack and beverage bar available for purchases.

Below are a few other companies that I recommend based on going on their snorkel or sunset tours. I give them a thumbs up!

Pride of Maui

Trilogy Sailing

Maui is a bucket list destination for whale watching!
Maui is a bucket list destination for whale watching!

Tips For Whale Watching In Maui

  • Have a good camera, with a great zoom and wide-angle lens.
  • Bring a small set of binoculars to get a closeup of these giants!
  • Dress in layers as although it might be a hot day, it can get windy out on a boat.
  • Pack a hat, sunglasses, reef-safe sunscreen, and a collapsible water bottle that fits in your bag.
  • Keep all your belongings safe and dry in a dry bag!
  • If you know that you get seasick easily, take a non-drowsy Dramamine before or for natural remedies wear a relief wrist band, and have ginger chews handy.
  • Focusing on the horizon or something stationary onshore will help avoid nausea.
  • If you happen to be swimming in the water, boating or kayaking, keep a distance of 100 yards from the whales.
  • Always look in all directions as you never know where a whale will pop up. Remember to look behind you too.
  • If you are curious about whale behavior, ask the naturalist on the boat!
  • If you see a whale, alert others by using the boat as a clock, The front is 12:00 and the back is 6:00. For example, “a whale at 2:00”!

Scuba Diving With Whales

Now that you have seen the whales from the surface of a boat or kayak, seeing one in the water is a remarkable experience. And you don’t even need to see them as you can hear and feel the vibrations in your body signaling they are close!

The divemaster let us know not to be surprised or scared to see a humpback whale while diving as there are so many during peak whale season. But what I didn’t expect was to hear the whale’s song with such a loud intensity.

The closer the whales are the more intense the vibrations...
The closer the whales are the more intense the vibrations…

I felt I was the luckiest observer to listen in on the most beautiful music to my ears. Within seconds I felt the most bizarre vibration in my chest that if I hadn’t been warned this would happen, I would’ve panicked that something was wrong!

The best I can describe it is that you can truly feel the song the whales are singing to each other with an intensity as it vibrates through the body.

It is a magical thing to experience and left me in absolute amazement…

Of course, there are no guarantees that you will see or hear the whales but if you go in peak season you have an excellent chance.

The dive company that I went out with is Lahaina Divers and I can’t recommend them enough!

Tip: Are you a new diver or haven’t dived in awhile? Brush up on some basics with my post 21 Best Scuba Diving Tips For Beginners!

Note: This wasn’t even a dive specifically for the whales. The whales were just a bonus on an already awesome dive.

Weather In Maui

You can visit the Hawaiian Islands at any time of the year and have great weather. There is not a huge temperature change between seasons and the only difference might be the amount of rain.

The whale season in Maui is from December through the end of April with the high temperatures ranging from 70 F to 73 F and the lows between 55 F and 60 F. The temperatures will feel a little warmer due to the humidity so keep that in mind too.

Visiting Maui in the winter months is a great escape from the cold!
Visiting Maui in the winter months is a great escape from the cold!

Although there really isn’t a rainy season, Maui is in the tropics and it isn’t unusual for it to rain a little bit each day. If anything, it is cooling and refreshing not lasting too long, and seems to be more common in the afternoons. If I had to pick a season with more rain it would likely be the fall months.

So, if you are going for Maui whale season you are going at a great time. And most likely incredible weather compared to where you live. It is the perfect escape from a cold and snowy winter!

Tip: Because the winter months are a little more crowded, book your hotel in advance.

Enjoy the spectacular experience of Maui whale watching!

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55 Comments

  1. What an absolutely amazing experience. I have whale watched here in Vancouver where I live but would love to do it again and haven’t seen humpbacks yet. I really want to visit Maui, so I guess I need to go at the beginning of the year to time it right to see the whales

    1. Yes, visiting the first part of the year is a great excuse to go to Maui and see all the whales. I’ll have to make a note to go whale watching up in Vancouver one day! 🙂

  2. What an incredible experience! I love your photos too. I went whale watching once in Monterey and it wasn’t like that!! I had no idea Maui was known for it either. 🙂

    1. Thanks Lannie! It is an awesome experience mainly due to the volume of whales in one place. If you get the chance definitely go to Maui during peak whale season. 🙂

    1. Thanks Nina! Seeing so many whales in one location is pretty awesome and definitely bucket list worthy! 🙂

  3. This looks like an amazing experience, Vanessa. I didn’t realise that the Hawaii region was so popular for whale activities. Thanks for sharing information on the background to the whales and the ethical information as well.

  4. I adore whales! We get Humbpack migrating past Sydney and I try to take a few whale watching cruises each season. Now and then you come across some playful juveniles that breach non-stop and it is the most magnificent thing to see on the ocean. I’ve never heard the whale song though. I’m not a diver, so probably won’t experience it underwater, but one of our whale watching boats has an underwater microphone onboard and you inspired me to take that boat next time 🙂

    1. That is so cool that you can see the whales migrating in Australia too! I’ve yet to visit Australia but it’s high on my list and now I know to add whale watching to my list there. It might not be as good, but you can listen to their song just dunking your head underwater when swimming or snorkeling. The closer they are the more intense the sound and vibrations will be. Good luck on your next boat tour! 🙂

  5. I’ve always wanted to visit Maui. Have only been whale watching in Monterey and loved it, will keep this is mine if I ever make it to Maui!

    1. Monterey is another great place to whale watch. Maui stands out for the weather, beauty, and the huge numbers of whales that you can see in every direction you look. It is a treat to see and hopefully, you get to go to Maui during whale season one day! 🙂

    1. Oh that is a bummer that you didn’t see any whales. During January, February and March the volume of whales is so high in Maui that you would have an excellent chance to see them. Maybe one day you can visit Maui for this opportunity! I’d love to travel to Madeira one day as it looks beautiful. 🙂

  6. I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii but to go whale watching there would be absolutely magical!! Such a useful guide and I hope I can get to use it one day

    1. Thank you. I hope you get the chance to visit Hawaii too and during whale watching season! It is one of my favorite destinations and hard not to love. 🙂

  7. This looks absolutely incredible! Would love to go on a whale watching tour; I’ve only ever seen whales from a lot higher up when I’m working on cruise ships. I can imagine it’s 100% more breathtaking up close like this

    1. Thanks Alex! That would be a unique way of seeing them from high up on a ship! If you make it to Maui then definitely take a whale watching tour as it is awesome. 🙂

    1. You’re welcome and I agree, whales are amazing to watch! Hopefully, you can use this guide in Maui one day. 🙂

  8. I’ve only been to Maui in September. I want to go back during whale season though. I might need to learn to scuba dive after reading your experience with the whales while scuba diving!

    1. September is an awesome month to visit Hawaii and one of my top favorite months along with whale season. The weather is great and not as many crowds. I always recommend trying scuba diving but you can likely hear the whales if they are close enough just by snorkeling or dunking your head under the water too. 🙂

  9. I love Hawaii, I had the chance to go there when I was very young, and would love to go again!
    It’s been a while since I have done whales watching as well, and it was far from being as impressive as what you got!! Thank you for suggesting this amazing guide

    1. You’re welcome! It sounds like it is time for another visit to Hawaii and maybe time it for whale season. It is a fun thing to experience. 🙂

  10. Our whale watching tour was one of the best experiences I’ve had, it was truly incredible to watch these majestic giants. I didn’t know that their song changes every year though.

    1. That’s so great to hear Wendy! Seeing whales up close is a bucket list experience for sure. They say that each year the song changes and in that season all the whales are singing the same song. So cool! 🙂

  11. Both Maui and seeing humpback whales are on my bucket list! What an incredible experience to see them breach!

    1. Definitely go when you do get the chance as it is an incredible sight to see these giant beauties! 🙂

  12. What a comprehensive post on visiting the Hawaiian islands. I can imagine that seeing whales in their own environment must be breathtaking and an emotional experience . I have always wanted to visit and if we make it will be a once in a lifetime vacation. Thank you for the tips.

    1. You’re welcome! I hope you get to go one day as it really is a spectacular thing to see so many whales on one spot and fairly up close. 🙂

  13. Wow amazing . I’ve always want to experience such an adventure. I will definitely keep this in mind when I plan my trip to Maui. Thank you for sharing

    1. You’re welcome! It is an incredible thing to see whales up close and hope you get to see them in Maui one day! 🙂

    1. Definitely try scuba diving in Maui if you are there in the winter to get the chance to see whales! Of course, the diving is fantastic there year-round so you can go wrong. 🙂

  14. What a cool experience! I am looking to go to Hawaii sometime after the New Year, so I would love to add this to my bucket list. 🙂

    1. Oh awesome! Maui is great any time of the year but even more so during the winter months for the whales. 🙂

  15. Wow. This is such a detailed and helpful post about a bucket list activity! I especially love the tip of if you see a whale, to use the boat as a clock to alert others!

    1. Thank you! I’m so glad you find the info and tips helpful! Yes, having a way to alert others comes in handy so that everyone can see the whales too. 🙂

    1. I agree, in most places seeing a whale is tough and not usually very fun or eventful. Maui is one of the only places in the world where there are thousands in one spot and they are very playful and animated. I’d be pretty happy playing in Maui’s waters too! Lol. If you get the chance to visit Maui in the winter, I think you might be super pleased. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! 🙂 Maui is such a great travel destination and even more so during whale season and glad you find the guide helpful!

  16. Hawaii is on my bucket list since long and it would be great to spot whale here. This island looks very exotic and good to know Maui is perfect for whale watching and looks like a paradise for nature lovers.

    1. The islands of Hawaii are one of my favorite travel destinations so I can’t recommend enough visiting one day as it is truly paradise! Yes, so many activities if you love nature like hiking, beaches, snorkeling, and diving to name a few. Seeing whales in the winter months is a bonus to see on Maui! 🙂

  17. What a beautiful experience! I went whale watching in Iceland a few years ago and saw a couple of minke whales. They’re such majestic animals! I’d love to experience whale watching in Maui…I bet it’s a bit warmer than Iceland! Thanks for the great guide!

    1. Thanks Hannah! Yes such an incredible experience to see so many whales in one place and I’m pretty sure it is a lot warmer than Iceland. Lol. I’ve never seen a minke whale so that is something I look forward to one day! 🙂

  18. I absolutely lovedddd my time in Oahu, and Maui is one of the destinations next on my “want to visit” list! I heard it’s absolutely beautiful! It looks that way from your pictures haha. I think whale watching in Maui would be incredible, but also I’m low-key scared of whales at the same time sooo….hahah

    1. Ah you will love Maui for sure if you liked Oahu. Oahu is the busiest and most touristy of the islands so you get the more laid back island vibe on Maui. Plus the vast numbers of whales make it a prime destination. I won’t say they are harmless as they are a wild animal but pretty mellow and a happy bunch. It is a law to stay at least 100 yards away so you don’t have to worry unless they come up to you! 🙂

  19. OMG you got soooo lucky with the humpbacks! I am soooo impressed with your photos! We went whale watching just off Africa once, but even though we saw whales, I neeeever managed to take good pictures! Maui looks soooo fun! 😀

    1. It was incredible to see so many whales Josy! I felt like I was going to have a whiplash seeing whales all around which made it pretty cool. If you make it to Maui one day, definitely look into whale watching! Whale watching in Africa sounds like it would be amazing too! 🙂

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