Māʻalaea Harbor is one of the best places on Maui to embark on a whale watching adventure. Every year, from December to April, humpback whales (Koholā) come to Maui to mate and give birth. During this period, Māʻalaea Harbor becomes a popular destination for tourists and locals alike who want to witness the incredible spectacle of humpback whales.
Situated on the southwest coast of Maui, the sheltered waters of the Māʻalaea harbor provide a relatively calm environment for whale watching boats, making it an ideal location for visitors to observe these majestic marine mammals up close. The harbor is home to a number of businesses, including the Maui Ocean Center, the Pacific Whale Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting whales and other marine life; and the Māʻalaea Small Boat Harbor, which provides moorings for small boats.
Whale watching tours depart from Māʻalaea Harbor daily. During your tour, you’ll have the opportunity to see humpback whales up close as they breach, tail slap, and spy hop. You might even see a mother and calf playing together or nursing. It’s an unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss!
The whale watching season generally runs from mid-December to mid-April. During this time, thousands of humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm waters of Maui to breed and give birth. This migration covers a distance of approximately 3,000 miles and is considered one of the longest migrations of any mammal.
Humpback whales migrate to Maui primarily for two reasons: breeding and calving. The warm waters of the Hawaiian Islands provide an ideal environment for these activities. The whales arrive in Maui after spending the summer months feeding in the rich waters of Alaska, where they consume vast amounts of food to build up energy reserves for the journey and sustain themselves during their time in the breeding grounds.
Once in Maui, humpback whales engage in complex courtship behaviors, with males competing for the attention of females. These behaviors often include breaching (leaping out of the water and crashing back down), tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping, and singing. Male humpbacks are known for their hauntingly beautiful songs, which can last up to 20 minutes and can be heard underwater for miles.
Tour operators in Māʻalaea Harbor offer a range of whale watching tours, including boat trips that provide an opportunity to see the whales from a respectful distance while adhering to guidelines that protect the whales and their natural behavior. Knowledgeable guides often accompany these tours to provide information about humpback whales, their behaviors, and the importance of conserving their habitat.
It’s important to note that while the peak season generally occurs between December and February, humpback whales can be seen in the waters off Maui for several months, extending from November through April. The migration patterns can vary, and some whales might arrive earlier or stay later than the peak months.
When embarking on a whale watching adventure, there are several important considerations to keep in mind to ensure a safe, respectful, and enjoyable experience for both you and the whales. Your safety and the safety of the whales should be the top priority.
And if you haven’t gotten enough of the whales or maybe it’s not whale season, come see the humpback whales in our cutting-edge sphere exhibit. Created in collaboration with science and technology experts, the Sphere provides a unique opportunity to witness the complex and vibrant lives of Maui’s humpback whales up close.
Crafted, directed, and produced by Daniel Opitz of Ocean Mind, the film encapsulates footage from multiple seasons in Maui’s waters. Through the seamless integration of 4K imagery, 3D active glasses, and a 7.1 surround sound system, guests are immersed in the whales’ underwater realm. It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity to connect intimately with these intelligent and spiritually significant marine beings.
When traveling to Maui there will never be a shortage of things and places to see. Make sure you’re always abiding by local and cultural laws when exploring the natural beauty of Maui and most importantly, relax! That’s what you came to do after all.