Maui News

Wintering Whales: Annual Spectacle Off Maui

January 5, 2018, 11:06 AM HST
* Updated January 5, 11:14 AM
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The whale season in Hawaiʻi is now in full swing with the majority of migrating humpbacks expected to visit Hawaiian waters between January and March.

Humpback whale breaching about a mile offshore from Mākena, Maui. (1.4.18) PC: Ellen Raimo

On Thursday, Maui residents and ocean enthusiasts Robert and Ellen Raimo observed what they said was “likely one of the five best days of the season,” as they captured images of whales breaching about a mile offshore of Mākena from their rowboat.

The Pacific Whale Foundation had their first humpback whale sighting of the season back on Oct. 10, 2017, off the coast of Kapalua in West Maui.

Last season, a total of 984 humpback whale sightings were reported during the 2017 Great Whale Count on Maui conducted in February, with the largest number of sightings occurring at Puʻu-ōlaʻi in Mākena (303), Polo Beach in Wailea (153), and Papawai/McGregor Point with 108 sightings.

Humpback whale breaching about a mile offshore from Mākena, Maui. (1.4.18) PC: Ellen Raimo

12,000 Humpbacks Migrate to Hawaiʻi Each Year


Although the number may vary from year to year, scientists estimate that as many as 12,000 humpback whales migrate from their feeding grounds off Alaska to breed, calve and nurse their young in Hawaiʻi’s warm waters.


The PWF reports that the migration to Hawaiʻi is believed to be increasing at at a rate of 7% per year.

While some whales have already arrived, the majority will be in Hawaiʻi between January and March.

PWF Be Whale Aware Poster.

Iconic Humpbacks are Protected:


Hawaiʻi’s iconic humpback whales are protected by state and federal agencies. Approaching humpback whales when on or in the water within 100 yards or within 1,000 feet by air is illegal.

What to do if you see a whale in distress:

Mariners are asked to keep a sharp lookout for whales in distress, but not to approach closely or attempt to assist them. Only trained and well-equipped responders that are authorized under NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program are permitted to assist whales and other marine mammals.

If you sight any marine mammal in distress, maintain 100 yards distance and please call the NOAA 24-hour Hotline at 1 (888) 256-9840. If unable to call, please radio the US Coast Guard on VHF CH. 16 and they will relay the report.

If you are reporting a vessel coming too close to a whale, call the NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964 or email [email protected] Additional guidelines and safety tips can be found online.

2018 Whale Festival Events Schedule:

The Pacific Whale Foundation has released a tentative schedule of events for Maui Whale Festival 2018. This marks the organization’s 38th year of celebrating humpback whales with fun, engaging and inspiring activities. Pacific Whale Foundation has presented the Maui Whale Festival since 1980 as part of its mission to protect the oceans and marine wildlife through research, conservation and public education.

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