Cruise Humpback Whale Territory
Anyone who climbs aboard a vessel this time of year and heads for the open ocean off Hawai‘i Island can expect to see humpback whales. There are so many of them that most boat companies don’t hesitate to guarantee sightings.
(Truth is, it’s hard to miss a 40-ton humpback when it propels its 45-foot bulk to the surface and then disappears in an enormous saltwater splash!)
Every year, humpback whales swim 3,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska to mate and calve in Hawai‘i’s clear, warm waters. The whales don’t arrive en masse—this year’s first reported sighting occurred on Aug. 30, 2012, off the Big Island’s Kona Coast—but researchers say there is a predictable order to their appearance in our waters. Protected under endangered species laws, the humpback population is growing. An estimated 7,000 to 10,000 humpbacks are expected to cruise through Hawai‘i’s waters this season, coming and going at their own pace. Generally, numbers peak in late December through mid-April.
Though the humpbacks are the seasonal stars of the show, the waters off this island are home to substantial populations of lowerprofile whales that are here year-round and equally intriguing to observe, like the false killer whale, pilot whale, pygmy whale, beaked whale, melon-headed whale and even the sperm whale.
There are many ways to observe a humpback whale in the wild. Snorkel cruises are a good bet. Powered rafts and fishing boats also travel humpback territory. Kailua Bay Charter Co. offers exclusive charters aboard its shallow draft glass-bottom boat. For a flat rate, groups of up to 24 passengers can view the reef and ocean depths of the Kona Coast, (where humpbacks abound in the winter months), before jumping off the deep end to explore the waters firsthand. Guests can bring snacks, food and spirits; the crew supplies everything else.
Or spend quality time with these gentle giants on a tour with Captain Dan McSweeney, principle whale researcher here on the Big Island who has devoted most of his adult life to helping the endangered Pacific humpbacks rebound in numbers.
Two good shoreline viewing sites are Lapakahi State Historical Park, north of Kawaihae at mile marker 14, and Kapa‘a Beach Park off Highway 270. Traveling north, turn left on the one-lane paved road just past mile marker 16.
• Adventure X Rafting (808) 937-7245 • Blue Sea Cruises (808) 331-8875 • Body Glove Cruises (800) 551-8911 • Captain Zodiac Raft Expeditions (808) 329-3199 • Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watch (808) 322-0028 • Dolphin Discoveries (808) 322-8000 • Fair Wind Cruises (808) 345-0244 • Hanamana (808) 936-5855 • Kailua Bay Charter Co. (808) 324-1749 • Kamanu Charters (808) 329-2021 • Kona Boat Rentals (808) 326-9155 • Lava Ocean Adventures (808) 966-4200 • Lava Roy’s Ocean Adventure Tours (808) 883-1122 • Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii (808) 325-1687 • Neptune Charlies Ocean Safaris (808) 331-2184
• Ocean Eco Tours (808) 324-7873 • Sea Quest (808) 329-7238 • Splasher’s Ocean Adventures (808) 326-4774 • SunLight on Water (808) 270-8765