The humpback whale is one of Maui’s most fascinating visitors, and a big attraction for the upwards of 2 million human visitors who come every year.
The humpback whale is drawn to the warmer winter waters of Maui to breed, give birth, and raise their young.
If you want to see the humpback whale in Maui, visit between January and March. Read our complete guide to discover your best chance for a whale encounter.
What Months Are Best To See Whales In Maui?
Maui whale watching season runs from November to May, although the best months for catching a glimpse of these incredible creatures are January, February, and March.
The humpback whales travel to Maui in the winter months to make the most of the warm waters with exceptional underwater visibility.
Whales visit Hawaii to mate, give birth, and nurse their young. Every year they undertake a 3,500-mile trip from the chilly waters of Alaska, to the warm waters of Maui.
Although the whale watching season unofficially kicks off in November, you might be lucky enough to glimpse a whale in the fall.
There are typically a few sightings in October, and the occasional breach in September, but only for very lucky visitors. Most of the whales start to appear in December.
In April and May, the whales start to head out, traveling back to Alaska. However, you still have a good chance of seeing whales in April, although the likelihood drops significantly as summer sets in.
January, February, And March
The best whale watching months are undoubtedly January through to March.
This is when boats run their ‘guaranteed whale’ tours. Roughly 12,000 whales come to Hawaii in winter, and they’re nearly all there by January.
In February and March, the whales continue to populate the waters of Maui. As they come here to breed and give birth, you might even get a chance to see a calf being taught the ropes by a parent!
Although the whales start to leave as winter gives way to summer, most of the whales are still enjoying Maui at the end of March. They start leaving for Alaska in April.
What Are The Worst Months For Whale Watching In Maui?
Over the summer months, from June to September, the whales have left Maui and migrated back to Alaska.
Although you might spot one or two still lurking in the waters, most whale tours don’t operate, and the chances of a proper sighting are incredibly low.
What Time Of Day Is Best To See Whales in Maui?
Really, any time of day is a good time for whale watching on Maui! Whales are active throughout the day, and take regular trips to the surface to breath, play, and attract a mate.
Whales don’t eat when they’re in Maui’s waters, and they don’t run on the same schedule as people. So, there’s no time that’s better for seeing a whale. You should choose a tour best fitting your schedule.
If you plan on taking a boat tour, it’s often best to head out in the morning. This is when the seas are at their calmest, and you’re less likely to experience seasickness caused by choppy waves.
The best whale watching visibility is between 11 am and 3 pm. This is when the sun is overhead, and you have the clearest views of the water. Take your binoculars, and you can see the humpback whale in its full glory.
For some incredible photos, try whale watching in the late afternoon, until sunset.
Maui is known for its sunsets, and the golden hour is considered the one of the best times for an unforgettable whale photo. Even better, take a sunrise tour. The light is just as golden, and the whales are more active.
On Which Side Of Maui Can You See Whales Best?
The best whale watching on Maui is found on the south and west side of the island.
The waters here are known as the Maui Nui Basin, and the area encompasses the sea between Maui, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe.
During the winter months, this becomes a protected area to keep the whales safe. If you want to spot the humpback whales in Maui, you have to look from West Maui or South Maui.
Can You See Whales From Land On Maui?
Boat tours are the best way to see whales as they visit the waters of Maui, but you can also spot them from the land on South and West Maui.
The best whale watching beaches on Maui are Ma’alaea Bay, particularly Papawai Point, and Makena Beach.
Lahaina Harbor is another good spot for whale watching.
But most beaches along this coastline are potential whale watching spots. If you’re lucky enough to be staying in a resort or condo with an ocean facing view, you might even be able to see whales from your lanai!
What’s The Best Way To See Whales In Maui?
The best way to see whales in Maui is to book a dedicated boat tour. These tours monitor the humpback whales’ behavior, and know where they’re most likely to visit.
Instead of keeping your fingers crossed and hoping to see a tail from the beach, a boat tour can take you right to the whales.
Another advantage of the boat tour is that you can learn about the whales! Maui’s humpbacks are fascinating creatures that have been visiting the island since the earliest Polynesian settlers.
(And your tour operator can point them out when you’re facing the wrong way!)
Whales Spend Winter In Maui
The humpback whale chooses the warm Maui waters as a winter destination, with the earliest arriving in October, and the last of them leaving in early May.
The best months to see humpback whales in Maui are January, February, and March. For the best chance to see a whale, book a morning tour on a whale watching boat. But you might get lucky, and spot the playful whale breaching from the beach!