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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).
With a focus on conservation and education, this East Oahu attraction is a great place to meet dolphins, sea lions, green sea turtles, rays, native fish and more. It's small enough to enjoy on foot, yet diverse enough to be a full-day attraction, and is also home to the top rated luau on Oahu.
Sunshine Helicopters offers air tours of Maui, Molokai, Big Island Hawaii and Kauai. Over 90% of the State of Hawaii is accessible only by helicopter. Soar with us in the blue skies above the Hawaiian Islands aboard our "Black Beauty" state-of-the-art helicopters.
Guided Kayak Tours (2-4 hrs) along the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Kayak and snorkel among coral teeming with colorful tropical fish in crystal clear waters with clarity over 50ft. Very small groups offering dolphin watching, turtle cleaning station, cliff jumping, sea caves, and more.
Located steps away from Kā`anapali Beach Hotel's sunny shore, the new water activity center will bring Hawaiian culture to popular ocean activities such as surfing, stand up paddle boarding, snorkeling, conch shell blowing and more!
Big Island's most complete boat and beach activity center. Join us for some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving on board our 50' catamaran "WINONA" or on one of our 2 dive boats. Daily sailings for snorkel and sunset cruises, as well as daily scuba diving.
Swim with Manta Rays and Snorkel Kona's beautiful reefs in style. Offering easy snorkel trips up and down Kona's dramatic coastline. Learn the history of Kona's coast while cruising aboard our fast fun boat. Use promo code gohawaii when booking online and save $10.
Snorkel with dolphins, sea turtles, and a colorful array of tropical fish. explore the sea caves and lava arches of a hidden volcanic coastline or have a close encounter with humpback whales. Climb aboard a Blue Water Raft and let the adventure unfold.