The Ultimate Guide to Whale Watching in Oahu
Table of Contents
- Whales of Hawaii
- When to Whale Watch
- Where to Whale Watch in Oahu
- How to Whale Watch
- How to Hear Whale Songs
- Oahu Whale Watching Tours
- Whale Watching in Oahu FAQs
- About Humpback Whales
Whales of Hawaii
Whales, or kohola in Hawaiian, have cultural significance in Hawaii. They star in Hawaiian legends including the story of creation and appear in ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs.
Up to ten thousand Humpback Whales migrate from Alaska and Canada to Hawaii each winter to mate and give birth and they can be seen from shores across Hawaii.
Humpback Whales are huge, up to 50+ feet. They are known for their melodic songs and for acrobatically breaching the water.
It doesn’t take special skills to spot whales in Hawaii, you just need to know where to look…and a little luck.
When to Whale Watch
Time of Year
The whale watching season in Oahu, Hawaii is mid-December through April.
Prime whale-watching months are January through March.
Time of Day
Whales are active throughout the day and can be spotted at any time.
Whale watching, however, may be easier in the morning since the ocean is calmer making whale activity easier to spot.
Where to Whale Watch in Oahu (for free!)
The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary has an awesome heat map with humpback whale sightings across Hawaii so you can get a feel for where to look. It shows that concentrations of whales are mostly on the North Shore and Southeast of Oahu. Use our map below to navigate to great viewing spots.
Spotting whales isn’t an exact science. The suggested viewing spots are good places to start but you could also get a great view nearby. Explore beyond the map markers to find your best vantage point.
Navigate to the whale watching spots here.
1. Ka’ena Point (North and West Shores) – Ka’ena point is a state park with oceanside hiking and biking trails. Hike by the water and keep an eye on the ocean while you walk to spot whales.
2. Makapuu Lighthouse – Hike to the Makapuu lighthouse and stop along the way to scan the ocean for activity.
3. Hanauma Bay Lookout – Hanauma Bay is a busy snorkeling spot. Head to the lookout closeby to watch for whales. Parking is competitive here but you don’t need to be in the main parking areas to look for whales. Little pull off areas close by work just as well for whale watching.
4. Diamond Head – Watch for whales from the summit of the Diamond Head hike or drive to one of the nearby lookouts for access by car.
5. Pupukea Beach Park – Watch for whales near Shark’s Cove in places like Pupukea Beach Park. If you’re snorkeling in this popular spot, you may be able to hear whale songs if they’re within a few miles of you.
6. Halona Blowhole – You can access this spot by car but the parking is congested. No need to park in a specific spot, head for the general area and pull off when you see open parking along the coastline.
7. Shoreline of Waikiki – The waters of Waikiki beach are busy and it can be tough to pick out whales amidst swimmers, surfers and boats. Find a quieter spot like Sans Souci State Recreational Area and keep an eye out for whale activity.
How to Whale Watch
1. Timing is everything. You’re most likely to spot whales from mid-December through April. The best time to whale watch in Oahu is January through March.
2. Be patient. Whales can stay under water for 30 minutes but generally stay under for about 15. If there are whales around, it may be a few minutes before they surface so give them time.
3. You’ll likely spot them a few hundred feet from shore so scan across the ocean.
4. If you have binoculars, bring them. You can spot whales without them, but binoculars or a superzoom camera will give you an up close view of the action.
5. Look for white puffs spraying out of the ocean. Whales breathe through a blowhole that makes a spout (the white puff spraying out of the ocean) and this is often the first sign that whales are around.
6. After you spot the spray of the blowhole, look for the whale to pop out of the water. You may spot the smooth hump of its back or a fin or tail if you’re lucky.
7. Continue to watch in the same area for a few minutes. Whales can travel in pods so you may see a few whales at the same time, the same whale breathing through its blowhole a few times, or you may even spot the whale breaching before it dives back under water.
How to Hear Whale Songs
In addition to spotting whales yourself, you may also be able to hear them in person.
The next time you’re snorkeling or scuba diving, try to listen for them.
Find a spot away from the surf and pop your head under water. If whales are within a few miles of you, you could be able to hear their songs or feel their vibrations.
Most whale watching boats also have hydrophones on board that will let you hear their songs while you’re watching for them.
Oahu Whale Watching Tours
For even more whale interaction, Oahu whale watching tours are a good way to learn more about the majestic marine life and get a closer look.
Why Take a Tour?
- Many tours guarantee a whale sighting.
- Tour operators will provide additional info about whales and marine life.
- Many boats include underwater hydrophones that will let you listen to the whales’ songs.
- You’ll get a closer look. Boats can’t come within 100 yards of humpback whales but you’ll likely get a much closer look than you’ll have from shore.
Whale Watching Tours in Oahu
- Take a cruise aboard a large ship like the Star of Honolulu from $42.
- Choose a small ship like the Best of the West (6 people max) that combines whale watching with swimming with dolphins, snorkeling with turtles, and lunch from $195.
- Rent a kayak or take a guided kayak tour. Whales aren’t guaranteed but a guide can help you spot them and you can get much closer to the whales than the shoreline viewing points. $45-$175
- Go sailing on a catamaran for your guided whale watching tour (up to 19 people) from $80.
- If you’re looking for luxe, charter your own yacht with Tradewind Charters from $495.
Whale Watching in Oahu FAQs
- What kind of whales are in Hawaii?
- Up to 10,000 Humpback Whales migrate to Hawaii each winter.
- There are smaller populations of several other types of whales including Sperm Whales and Killer Whales too.
- Does rain affect whale watching?
- No, whales are still active in the rain.
- What is the best time of day to spot whales?
- Whales are active throughout the day but you may have an easier time spotting them in the calmer waters of the morning.
- How close can you get to whales?
- Regulations prohibit boats from approaching within 100 yards of whales in Hawaii.
About Humpback Whales
- Humpback Whales migrate further than any other mammal on Earth.
- They travel around 3,000 miles between breeding and feeding grounds.
- Humpbacks travel alone or in small pods of 2-3 whales.
- Humpback Whales are huge, up to 50+ feet.
- Even at that size, they are not the largest whale. The Humpback is the sixth largest species of whale.
- Humpback Whales can weigh 40 tons.
- Their spouts (the spray when they breathe through their blowhole) are about 13 feet.
- Humpback Whale females are larger than males.
- They are baleen whales. Instead of teeth, they have hundreds of fringed overlapping plates called baleen plates.
- They eat mostly small fish, crustaceans, and plankton.
- The name “Humpback Whale” comes from the hump that forms when they arch their backs to dive deep into the ocean, not from a permanent hump on their backs.
- The dorsal fin of the Humpback Whale is unique, like human fingerprints.
- Humpback Whales will often jump out of the water and splash back down, called breaching.
- When whales dive deep under the water, it’s called “sounding”.
- Humpback Whales will typically spend 15-30 minutes underwater before resurfacing again.
- They’re known for their songs which are a combination of moans, howls, and cries that continue for hours.
- Only male Humpback Whales sing, which is thought to attract potential mates.
- All males in a population sing the same song.
- This song will change as the season progresses, but all males will continue to sing the same song.
- The song the following year will pick up where the previous season’s song left off.
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