It’s that magical time of year again when North Pacific humpback whales once again return to the shallow waters of the Hawaiian Islands to mate, raise their young and amaze whale watchers.
These beloved gentle giants, known in ʻōlelo Hawaiiʻi (Hawaiian language) as koholā, have migrated to Hawaiʻi during the winter to early spring months—November through May—for centuries. Nearly half of the North Pacific population of humpback whales will leave the cold waters of Alaska for a six-week voyage to Hawaiʻi, where they can enjoy warmer, safer waters to mate and give birth. newborns spending the first months of their lives frolicking in Hawaiian waters.
And the first whale of the 2021 season was spotted by an observant flight instructor, Nick Moran, who was training students off Kaihalulu Beach in Hāna on Maui before seeing the animal on October 1. While the spotting was thought to be quite early, with most early whale sightings occurring in early November, it was confirmed by Allen Tom, Superintendent of the Hawaiian Islands National Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary, that although the arrival of the whale is early, it is not too much early and that shouldn’t be considered a bad thing.
If you want to get your own glimpse—or a personal, up-close experience—with a koholā, there are several ways to see a whale for yourself.
Generally, you’re better off taking a whale-watching boat tour, many of which depart from Lahaina in Maui, where the whales spend most of their time in Hawaiʻi. (You can see whales on every island.) If you’re lucky, you can get very up close to a North Pacific humpback whale and maybe even see a breach or two which is a truly magnificent experience.
If you can’t organize a boat trip, don’t worry! Instead, find a sturdy pair of binoculars and a nice vantage point on Maui’s east coast – there are a few pullovers with exceptional views located along the Honoapiʻilani Highway. With the majority of migrating whales finding refuge in the waters off the east coast of Maui, a little patience and a keen eye will have you seeing spray, splashing and possible whale tails in no time. On O’ahu, you can spot these majestic creatures from Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail and Diamond Head. On Kauaʻi, you can often see them from Poʻipū Beach on the south shore of the island, the Kīlauea Lighthouse, the Kapaʻa Overlook, and off the coast of Nāpali.
If you’ve fallen in love with koholā, check out the Pacific Whale Foundation! Not only do they run eco-friendly whale watching tours – as well as snorkeling trips, sunset dinners and cocktail cruises – but they also aim to educate visitors and locals about the how we can help preserve and care for whales and other marine life.