Whale Watching in Maui

After hearing that the Humpback whales had arrived in Maui early this season, we decided to go out and take our chances on Nov 17. We signed up with the Pacific Whale Foundation, went out on a two-hour cruise – and we saw whales.

Here is the course we took:

This was my first time ever whale watching. The trick is to go out there and look for whales spouting. You can see that from a fair distance. The whales make vapor clouds that last for a few seconds when they exhale. Usually whales surface in groups, so there are multiple of those popping up. The boat then turns toward them to get closer. The whales dive and seemingly disappear for five to ten minutes, until they surface again. You have to close in on them iteratively.

On the above chart, the area at the red arrow is one where we spotted whales. We then drifted along waiting for them. You can see the irregular track indicating that we just drifted, waiting.

Then the whales came up. Everyone in the boat got their cameras out and was busy trying to capture the moments. I didn’t even bother. Whales surface for a fraction of a second sometimes. Getting a picture of any detail with a point and click camera is just about impossible. The best views are usually long gone by the time you aim the camera and press the shutter. Here are the very best pictures Trisha was able to get:

This is the tail fluke of a Humpback. They display their tails just before they get ready to dive deep (and disappear for a while).

Here one more fluke shot. This time a different whale.

I left my camera in my pocket. I didn’t even try. And as a result, I probably actually saw more than anyone else on the boat. I saw pectoral fins, huge backs and flukes, sometimes as close as a hundred yards or so.

We moved on and eventually stopped at the area at the green arrow. There was a large pod of mellonhead whales. These are small, dolphin-sized whales. There were dozens of them on the surface at any given time. It was hard to tell how many there where overall. Our guide said he had done tours for seven years, and this was only the second time he had ever seen this species. I guess they don’t come into the coastal waters very often, so it was a unique opportunity.

These were even harder to photograph. Sometimes we’d see dozens of shark-like dorsal fins stick out of the waves. Here is a good shot of one whale out of the water, with the fins of a few others. We saw some of these breaching, but never got any good shots.

Now I appreciate the photographic skill it takes to shoot something like this – taken off the Pacific Whale Foundation’s web site:

I highly recommend the Pacific Whale Foundation, not only for their impressive tours, but for their conservation research and public education and relations efforts.

Leave a Reply