• Humpback-Whale-Breach

Whale Watching on Maui

Here on Maui it is the season everyone waits for with great anticipation. People of all ages flock from around the globe in hopes of spectacular glimpses of the mighty giants. It is whale season!  Faces are full of expectation and excitement as they board the many boats in the harbor; but the faces upon return are priceless! They are full of tales and laughter of the wonderous humpback whale sightings. Sometimes they return soaking wet from the spray of the ocean as they race to get within sight.  Sometimes they return soaking wet from rain, after all it is Hawaii’s winter months.  However no one seems to care, in fact they seem jubilant, especially those who have chosen a private boat charter!  On a private boat charter whale watch you do not have to try to peek around or over heads for perfect viewing of the humpback whales. You can race from bow to stern and all sides of the boat for the best views possible.  And, when you want to capture that perfect photo you will not find a stranger’s head in the middle of your screen where the whale was supposed to be, how deflating!  In addition you have your very own personal whale watching experts on board your private charter. They are there just for you and well prepared to answer your many questions about the humpback whales. They are eager to share their knowledge; many of your questions are answered without the need to ask.  Whether you are a novice enthusiast, a world-renowned professional photographer, or somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, there is no more exhilarating way to experience Hawaii Whale Watching in Maui than aboard your very own private boat tour.

Read on for some fun and interesting facts about humpback whales to help you learn all about them while you are day dreaming and busily planning your perfect Maui, Hawaii vacation.

When do they get here? 

The truth is we cannot give you a specific day, but we can give you very good roundabouts. The first sightings of the humpback whales in the Maui basin are typically early to mid-October. The odds of seeing the few that are arriving that early are very slim. The official Hawaii Whale Watch Season runs from late November to April; however, picking months are January through March. February is what we call ‘whale soup’ because they are here large in number, up to as many as 10,000 displaying their dynamic acrobatics to the awe of all lucky enough to be present and witness.

Where do they come from?

From Hawaii, of course! Born in Hawaii’s warm waters, Maui’s basin is a favored mating ground and birthing place. Long ago the island of Maui was quite different. It was much larger as Kaho’olawe, Lana’I, Moloka’I, and the Maui we know now were all connected above the waters surface and the island was known as Maui Nui.  When melting came about at the end of the ice age the water tables rose placing channels between the higher grounds creating the islands we see today and the basin that lies within them. This basin, much warmer and shallower than the deep open waters, created the perfect safe place for calves to be born, nurtured, and to grow big enough before making the six to eight weeks, roughly 3,000-mile, journey to cool deep waters for feeding. It is the whale version of the popular Baby Beach! The humpback whales born here in Hawaii migrate to Alaska and spend the months that the cool waters there are just the right temperature to feast and amass their body fat, which enables them to safely make the long trek back to Hawaii each year. Much like humans, the North Pacific Humpback Whales have their kitchen (Alaska), and their bedroom (Hawaii) only ours are not so far apart! In typical local fashion, humpback whales are super friendly, throwing out ‘Eh Brah!’ with their shaka shaped flukes (tails), and waving Aloha with their pectoral fins.


Humpback Whale Mouth

How big are they and what do they eat?  

The average male humpback whale is typically somewhere between 43-46 feet long, about the same length of a school bus and can weigh as much as 40+ tons. Female humpback whales are slightly larger ranging anywhere between 49-52 feet, that is about a school bus and a half. North Pacific Humpback Whales gorge mostly on krill and small fish such as herring, and salmon in the polar waters of Alaska. One very interesting feeding technique some populations of humpback whales use is called the bubble method. This method is peculiar in that it is not inherent but must be learned and perfected by individual whales, some can do it and others cannot. They teach one another how to create a bubble net by communicating through vocalization. The bubble method is performed by one whale exhaling out of its blowhole under water toward a large school of fish. Other whales join in doing the same thing while circling the school, trapping the fish within a bubble net. One whale will give a signal call and all whales participating race upward with their mouths open to feed on the corralled fish. Humpback whales do not have teeth they have baleen plates. Those baleen plates strain out up to 15,000 gallons of seawater they can take in, while getting the maximum number of fish they need to ingest. But, the big question most have is what do they eat while they are in Hawaii?  Believe it or not, they do not eat anything while in the warm tropical waters; they fast and live off the reserved fat. The exception would be the newly birthed calves, who nurse their mothers’ milk for approximately six months. The whale mother’s milk is pink in color and has the consistency of cottage cheese or yogurt due to the extremely high fat content. Incredible, but a baby calf can gain up to 7 pounds in less than 10 minutes, gaining as many as 100 pounds per day.

What are the whale behaviors we might experience?

BREACHING – Probably the humpback whales most marvelous spectacle is when they dive deep, then turn and head straight up from the depths at approximately 18 mph.  They burst through the water rising above the surface as high as their body is long. All of this can be accomplished with a mere 3 full speed tail strokes.  They often repeat that incredible maneuver many times.  No one really knows why whales do it.  Some theories suggest it is a way to clear their skin of barnacles and pests. Whatever the reason – it looks like they are having fun!

SPY HOPPING – Humpback whales are curious mammals, they like to check out their surroundings and sometimes that includes boats!  A whale is spying when it pops its head up vertically out of the water and holds itself in a stationary position, so it can look around and see what is going on above the surface. They are known to pop up curiously close to vessels.  If you are on a private boat charter with no one else around – you might have to wonder if it is checking you out up close and personally!

Humpback Whale Spy-Hopping

Humpback Whale Spy-Hopping

TAIL AND PECTORAL SLAPPING – While no one knows with any certainty the behaviors of the humpback whales, it is believed that slapping can be both friendly and a warning. Friendly slaps are said to be a male whales way of letting other whales know ‘Hey, I’m here, come hang out!’ or to females he might be flirting, trying to get her attention.  When it happens in a competition pod – it is basically the male whales fighting over who saw her first and trying to get the others to back off (kind of like the guys in the local watering hole after work). Outside of typical whale behaviors, we like to think the pectoral fin slaps are also the whales’ way of waving Aloha.

COMPETITION PODS – Extremely exciting to witness as a group of male humpback whales parry and charge one another. Peduncle (the thick part of the tail above the fluke) throws can be quite vicious as they slap one another around trying to show dominance and win the honor of mating with the one and only female in the group.  Male Humpback Whales burst up out of the water and land on top of one another with tremendous force.  It is quite the spectacle! Competition pods can carry on for quite some time, as new males will join in the challenge as some of the exhausted ones drop out. The fight ensues until only one suitor remains to mate with and swim off into the sunset with the lady whale.

MUGGING – One of the most extraordinary experiences that can happen to you in your lifetime. Male humpback whales are quite aggressive in pursuit of the females. There are times when a female, whether out of exhaustion, or for the protection of her calf, will seek solace and bring her baby alongside a boat to hide. She and her calf can spend a good amount of time cruising around and under the boat.  Sometimes the baby will practice breaching right beside the vessel or nap on its mothers’ nose. However they choose to spend their mugging time, the awe of wonderment you feel at that moment will be forever etched in your memory.

WHALE SONG – Not something to be seen, of course, but to hear the long and mournful sounds of the whale song is intoxicating and something you will long remember. No one, scientists included, has been able to figure out the mystery of the whale songs purpose.  It is speculated, however, that it is a way of communication for mating calls (love songs?), as well as locating other nearby whales (I’ve got friends in low places?).  Male whales are the only ones that sing. A beautiful fact about the whale song is that each year as the whales travel from Alaska they all sing the same song, which can go on for up to 40 minutes at a time. Despite the distance between them, as they travel from different areas and belong to different pods, the song remains the same as they make their way to Hawaii. Once they have arrived the song will begin to morph.  As the months progress during their tropical getaway it will change many times over, though they will all continue to sing the same through the progression.  The final song will travel with them all the way back to Alaska or Russia.  It will remain the same throughout feeding season and will be sung without change during migration back to Hawaii once again. A snorkel adventure aboard a private charter boat during whale season is the most perfect opportunity to hear the song of the whales. All you have to do is get into the water geared up in your mask and snorkel, put your ears below the surface of the water and breathe quietly as you pause and listen.  If you are lucky – a whale will be singing a beautiful mysterious song of the sea.

Are we guaranteed to see whales?

Although you can never be sure what to expect on any given whale watch, if you visit during the peak season – you can be 99.9% guaranteed that you will see something many people only dream of seeing. A Maui private boat charter can make that experience even more than what your dreams could fathom. Boats are required to keep a safe distance from the whales, but the whales themselves have no regulations. Many times you will find them pec slapping, tail slapping, spy hopping, and even breaching up out of the water within mere feet of the vessel.  So, bring your cameras, sunglasses, and raingear and expect the unexpected. The magnificent, majestic humpback whales with their bold athletics are a sight to behold.  And as you see their fluke stand tall out of the water before it slides quietly below the surface – you know they have just waved goodbye as they dive deep into the depths of the blue Hawaiian waters.


Humpback Whale Tail

All of Sea Monkey Charters include whale watching December through April.  Peak months are January through March. Book your private whale watching tour today by clicking below or call us at: 808-491-9141.

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