Whale Watching Cruises in Hawaii: A Guide

As a state composed entirely of small islands that are situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is an ideal place to see marine wildlife, including whales. In fact, there are a number of places on the Hawaiian Islands where you can stand on the shore and see whales in the distance. If you want a closer look, however, you’ll have to take a whale watching cruise, and there are plenty such cruises available in Hawaii. On at least six of the eight main islands – Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii Island – there are whale watching cruises, so there is a high probability that wherever you end up in Hawaii, it should be relatively easy to take a whale watching cruise.

Like almost anywhere else in the world where you can spot whales, Hawaiian whale watching is tied to the mammal’s migration patterns. More specifically, Hawaii is beholden to the humpback whale migration; the whales spend the winter, from about December through May, near the Hawaiian shorelines, where they mate, give birth, and then raise their young. Whale watching in Hawaii is basically the exact complement to whale watching in Alaska, where humpback whales feed during the summer months. So, during the summer you can go to Alaska, where humpback whales (and other species) are engaged in a months-long feast in the nutrient rich waters over the continental shelf of the Pacific Rim, and then during the winter you can go to Hawaii, where they reproduce in the warm coastal waters. (As an interesting side note, humpbacks eat essentially nothing as they winter in Hawaii.) Scientists estimate that around half of the North Pacific humpback whale population, or about 10,000 out of the total 21,000 whales, end up in the waters off of Hawaii for the winter, so the islands are really a superb place to see humpbacks.

Humpback whales are undoubtedly the central focus of whale watching cruises in Hawaii, but it is possible to see other species as well, like pilot whales, and sometimes a rare beaked whale is seen as well. Apart from whales, there is a lot of other marine life to observe, like dolphins and sea turtles, as well as a wide range of different seabirds. The exact animals you can see will depend on where you take your whale watching cruise and what parts of the ocean it explores, but there is a great deal of overlap between all the whale watching cruises of Hawaii.

So, no matter where you end up in Hawaiia, there is a good chance you can take a whale watching cruise. It will focus on humpback whales, as it should, but there are opportunities to see other marine life as well.

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