It’s officially winter in Maui and although temperature wise, it may not feel like it, the warm shallow waters beckon the North Pacific Humpback Whale population to migrate for the winter.
South Maui is the perfect place to stay when you want easy access to Maui’s spectacular whale watching season. Kihei and Wailea are known for warm sun, sandy white beaches, breathtaking sunsets and breaching whales. December through May is Maui’s Kohola (humpback whale) season and in South Maui, you are in the perfect location to whale watch whether from the sandy shores or on a whale watching cruise. Boats typically depart from the Kihei Boat Ramp or the Maalaea Harbor just north of Kihei.
Viewing acrobatic Kohola up close is an unreal experience you will never forget. They are the fifth largest whales in the world growing up to 60 feet and weighing up to 40 tons. Females are slightly larger, which helps them give birth to babies that are approximately 12 feet long and weigh about 2,000 pounds! When these gentle giants approach your cruise boat it feels as if you’re watching a prehistoric dinosaur!
The whales are Maui natives. They are born here and migrate annually from Alaska to give birth. The journey takes anywhere from 6 to 8 weeks. While adults don’t eat the entire time they are here due to the lack of krill, babies consume about 100 gallons of their mother’s milk in only one day! Whales milk is 40% milkfat making it extremely thick. Sightings of this milky substance floating in the water are common on whale watching tours.
Tours are the best way to see these amazing aumakua (guardians) up close, however the males’ melodic mating calls can be heard as far as twelve miles away. Only on Maui can you hear the amazing song of a male Kohola while snorkeling just off the beach. The majority of Kohola can be found off the coast of West Maui due to its calm waters and high visibility. Whales tend to stay in this protected, shallow area between Maui, Kahoolawe and Lanai.
In the 1800s, Lahaina was the whaling capital of Hawaii. Whales were nearly extinct, however todays efforts at conservation, particularly by the Pacific Whale Foundation, have revitalized Hawaii’s whale population to about 21,000 North Pacific Humpback whales. The population continues to increase at about 7% each year.