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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).
Located on iconic Waikiki Beach, the Reef Bar & Market Grill offers casual all-day dining modeled after authentic local island meat and fish markets. Guests select fresh “farm-to-beach” ingredients and grill their own steaks beachside in a one-of-a-kind interactive dining experience. The combination of locally sourced meats and seafood, farm-fresh produce and invigorating trade winds create an incomparable recipe for the perfect meal.
Sunshine Helicopters offers helicopter tours of Maui, Molokai, Big Island Hawaii and Kauai. With over 90% of the State of Hawaii accessible only by air, enjoy a helicopter ride and soar with us in the blue skies above the Hawaiian Islands aboard our state-of-the-art helicopters.
Bubbles Below aims to inspire scuba divers to care about the marine world through encounters, education, and natural curiosity. We are committed to upholding the character of our many dive sites, the coral reefs, and all of their residents through sustainable practices and conservation.
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Swim and snorkel with Hawaiian spinner dolphins, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and reef fish. Seasonal whale watching included. "Hawaii's Finest In-Water Dolphin Experience and Snorkel Adventure." Free underwater camera with every online reservation!
This Smithsonian-affiliated Lyman Museum tells the story of Hawaii’s islands and people. Exhibits trace Hawaii’s history from its volcanic origins and the flora and fauna that arrived before humans to life in ancient Hawaii and the immigrant groups that helped shape Hawaii’s unique culture of today
Experience Polynesian culture at the Drums of the Pacific Luau located at the Hyatt Regency Maui. Enjoy song and dance from the islands of Polynesia, including an all-you-can-eat buffet with traditional island fare, authentic imu ceremony, and three-man Samoan fire-knife dance, all oceanside.