Whale Watching Cruises on the Island of Hawaii: A Guide

The Island of Hawaii, also called “Hawaii Island” or the “Big Island,” is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, and accordingly it has a large number of whale watching cruises that set sail from it. Below we have attempted, after much labor, to organize these various whale watching cruises into one convenient guide, and we also provide a basic overview of what to expect on a cruise that departs from the Island of Hawaii.

As we explained in a more general article, whale watching in Hawaii is largely centered on seeing humpback whales, who congregate in large numbers off the coast of Hawaii during the winter, from roughly December through May, to reproduce. (For the record, many whale watching tours cease a month or so earlier than May, perhaps as the population starts to thin as whales begin their migration back to Alaska.) Thus, all whale watching cruises from the Island of Hawaii will have humpback whale sightings at their primarily focus. That said, the Island of Hawaii is surrounded by a rich marine ecosystem, so you will see lots of other animals in addition to humpback whales. This includes other whale species, like pilot and sperm whales, as well as dolphins, sea turtles, manta rays, and various species of seabird. What exactly you see will vary day by day, but there is a high probability that you’ll see at least a few of these creatures and some humpback whales, and in fact some companies will guarantee whale sightings on their cruises.

When you are looking to book a whale watching cruise, the hardest part is often just figuring out what is available. This is especially challenging on the Island of Hawaii because the number of companies that offer whale watching is overwhelming. When we started our quest to catalog all the different whale watching tours on the Island of Hawaii, we quickly found ourselves sinking deeper and deeper into a never-ending sea of possibilities. When we resurfaced, we had discovered fifteen different outfits that offer whale watching during the humpback season, and it’s hard to say if we caught everything. In any case, we’ve compiled a list, which should include all (or nearly all) companies that offer whale watching on the Big Island. The hyperlinked names connect (where possible) to the whale watching section of each company’s website.

Body Glove
Kona Ocean Adventures
Big Island Day Tours
BlueSea Cruises
Mauna Lani Sea Adventures
Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watch Learning Adventures
Kohala Sail & Sea
Hawaii Oceanic
Captain Zodiac
Sunlight on Water
Dolphin Discoveries
Ocean Sports
*Adventures in Paradise
*Hanamana Boat Charters
**Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures

Almost all of these companies offer fairly standard whale watching cruises. They take you out on a boat (often a small boat) to look for whales, and generally the trip lasts about one and a half to three hours, and costs somewhere in the $80-$120 range. However, the two companies marked with an asterisk – Adventures in Paradise and Hanamana Boat Charters – offer boats to rent, which can then be used to search for whales. The company marked with the double asterisk, Wild Hawaii Ocean Adventures, offers a “snorkeling and marine life experience,” and while you can see whales on these tours, they aren’t the sole focus of the trips.

As you can clearly see, there is no shortage of whale watching cruises on the Island of Hawaii, and indeed there is something of surfeit, at least from the perspective of someone trying it organize all the different possibilities into one easy-to-use guide. The Island of Hawaii is fairly small and reasonably easy to get around, but it is worth making the obvious point that not all the departure points for these whale watching cruises will be equidistant from you. So, in addition to comparing prices and looking at which companies offer the type of cruise you want to take, you’ll want to consider where they are located. This will narrow the range of possibilities considerably, and once you figure out who you want to book with, you can often book your ticket right online.

whale watching cruises

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