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Adult males range from 40 to 52 feet and can weigh up to 45 tons. Despite their size, humpback whales are graceful acrobats. Keep your eye on the ocean and you might see one breach, propelling up to 40 percent of its body out of the water and landing on its side with a spectacular splash.
Whales have great cultural significance for Native Hawaiians. They play a large role in Hawaiian legend—including one creation story—and appear in ancient petroglyphs on several islands. The return of the kohola (humpback whale) is considered more of a homecoming than a visit. Humpback whales are born in Hawaiian waters, making them kamaaina (native born). Some Native Hawaiians also believe the whales are aumakua (family guardians), so these gentle giants are treated with great respect.
Cultural Significance of Whales in Hawaii
Although humpback whales can be seen from all of the Hawaiian Islands, the shallow Auau Channel between Maui, Molokai and Lanai is one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world.
What's the Best Way to See Whales?
You may also spot kohola from the southern shores of Oahu, especially at Makapuu Lighthouse and along the seaside overlooks near Leahi (Diamond Head).
Kauai offers a range of whale-viewing opportunities, including Poipu Beach on the South Shore, Kilauea Lighthouse on the North Shore and Kapaa Overlook on the island’s Coconut Coast.
On the island of Hawaii, whales are often seen along the shores of the Kohala Coast, as well as Hilo Bay on the east side of the island. The Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is another great viewing spot, with its sweeping, elevated views near Kawaihae Harbor. In fact, Puukohola literally means “hill of the whale” in Hawaiian.
Boat tours may be your best option for viewing whales up close. Hawaii has dozens of tour operators, including a few that lead kayak excursions—a thrilling way to experience these majestic mammals.
In respect for the kohola and the safety of sightseers, all watercraft must stay a minimum of 100 yards from the whales, but you'll be surprised how close you feel when a 45-ton behemoth lunges out of the sea. If a boat tour is not for you, the whales’ impressive acrobatic displays are often visible from miles away. If you're on land, keep a pair of binoculars handy because you never know when you'll see a humpback’s spout (which can be 10–20 feet tall).
Explore Maui Nui’s ocean environment with the experts at Pacific Whale Foundation through PacWhale Eco-Adventures top-rated Whalewatches, as well as award-winning snorkel cruises to Molokini & Turtle Arches, Lanai and Honolua Bay; Dolphin Watch ecotours; Sunset Dinner and Cocktail Cruises.
Immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of Hawaii’s marine life at Maui Ocean Center, The Aquarium of Hawaii. Encounter schooling reef fish, sharks, stingrays, turtles, and experience the world's first virtual encounter with Hawaii's humpback whales in the Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & 3D Sphere.
Discover an ocean-side paradise bordering a marine preserve that teems with colorful reef fish and protected species such as green sea turtles and spinner dolphins. Explore this untouched island playground, and experience your own private Hawaii.
The Courtyard King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel offers resort-style amenities without the resort price tag. This beachfront hotel features 452 guest rooms, 2 ocean view restaurants, an infinity pool, & is home to 20,000 square feet of event space, which can accommodate up to 500 persons.
Beachfront resort on ten landscaped acres next to the scenic Wailua River. Newly renovated rooms and one-bedroom cottages, a variety of on-site dining options and Kauai’s only protected swimming beach. Great central location from which to explore.
Booking online with Snorkel Molokini is the easiest, least expensive and fastest way to plan your snorkel at Molokini Crater.
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa's 2016 renovation features contemporary redesigned guest rooms and new spaces for mingling. The resort offers a Mandara Spa, infinity pools, ocean view dining and calm beach, all located a short stroll from destination shopping and dining.
Ala Kukui is a cultural center for native Hawaiian spiritual and intellectual advancement. Our retreat space offers a unique opportunity to engage with our local community of cultural practitioners who pay respect to the environment through traditional Hawaiian practices.
Located in Hilo's upscale enclave, Reed's Island, a mile from downtown Hilo. The three-bedroom house is perched at eye level to one of Hawaii's most beautiful waterfalls, and is flanked by the Wailuku River and rainforest.
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