Whale Watching Season on Kauai

Whale season on Kauai - Where and when to watch

We’re not the only ones who journey thousands of miles to enjoy the warm Hawaiian waters during wintertime.  The humpback whale, or kohola in Hawaiian, swim the thousands of miles each year from the cold waters of the North Pacific to breed, calve and nurse their young in the warm shallow waters of Hawaii. And while they are here, they really know how to put on a show!

Whale watching season in Hawaii typically begins in late November, however peak season is January through March. Some whales enjoy their vacation so much that they will extend their stay through May before making their way home.

On Kauai, there are two ways to catch a glimpse of these beautiful creatures, by land and by sea. A catamaran or zodiac boat tour will make the most of your vacation time because not only will you have the chance to view the whales from a close distance, you may also get to see some playful Hawaiian spinner dolphins and turtles, and take in views of Kauai’s spectacular coastlines, such as the Napali coast, a jaw-dropping 3,000 foot cliffs rising majestically out of the ocean. These tours offer it all, from snorkeling in the warm waters and hearing beautiful whale songs under water to watching the sunset with a cold mai tai in your hand while humpback whales frolic in the distance.

For those who prefer to stay on land, Kauai offers many vantage points to view the whales in all their glory without getting wet. Some favorite spots to view whale activity in Poipu include Shipwreck’s Beach, Makahuena Point, Poipu Beach (fronting the Sheraton Kauai Resort) and Spouting Horn. Kilauea Lighthouse on the north side of Kauai is officially designated a humpback whale marine sanctuary by the Federal government. We recommend packing a lunch, taking a couple beach towels to sit on and bringing a set of binoculars to any of these spots to truly enjoy your whale watching experience.

Kauai whale breaching

Humpback whales use their bodies to communicate with other whales and ocean creatures. While whale watching, it’s helpful to distinguish the meaning behind those seeming innocent whale behaviors:

  • Blow or spout: A whale can remain submerged under water for as long as 45 minutes before taking a breath. When they do, you will see spouts of water blowing from the surface
  • Tail Slap: This may serve as a warning to other whales to stay away. A whale will raise its tail flukes out of the water and slap it repeatedly on the surface of the water creating a large splash
  • Breach: The most exciting of whale behaviors. The whale will use its tail to propel 40 percent of its body out of the water and land back on the surface
  • Pec Slap: Humpback whales will sometimes communicate with other whales by slapping the water’s surface with their pectoral fin
  • Head rise or spy hop: Sometimes whales need to see what is happening around them. The head rise allows them to rise vertically toward the surface and stick their head out of the water. This often occurs when there is other competition or a predator nearby
Na Pali dolphins with Holo Holo Charters

Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the humpback whale population has grown in the last 20 years from 6,000 whales in the North Pacific Ocean, with 4,000 coming to Hawaii, to more than 21,000 whales existing today with approximately 10,000 traveling to Hawaii each year.

There is something inspiring about watching a humpback whale, which as an adult can weigh up to 45 tons, play off-shore. Even more exciting is seeing a baby whale take breaching lessons from their mother and learn to splash and play, similar to a baby in a bathtub.

Like all of our visitors, we look forward each year to the arrival of our guests, the humpback whales, who seem to know how to enjoy paradise just as much as we do.

We recommend these boat tours that will take you to see the whales:

Kauai Dolphins playing in the waves