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Marine Life Tours & Cruises

Big Island Whale Watch Tours

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See whales on the best Big Island whale watching tours this winter, and watch as the Pacific humpback whales rest and play after traveling from Alaska to Hawaii. December and April is whale watching season on the Big Island, and the ocean becomes the winter home for humpback whales and their calves that are born in the island's warm waters, and with whale watching cruises, boat rides, and sails departing from Kona, Waikoloa, and Hilo, there is a whale watching experience perfect for everyone.
Your Guide to Whale Watching on the Big Island of Hawaii
Every winter approximately 10,000 to 12,000 humpback whales travel to Hawaii from Alaska to Hawaii during their mating and calving season, and from November to May, you will often see these massive marine mammals in the warm waters surrounding the islands of Hawaii.

Although the protected oceanic areas known as the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary are mainly found between the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai, the Big Island of Hawaii is also a popular destination for humpback whales, and they can be found off the shores of Kailua-Kona, Waikoloa, and Hilo.

Big Island whale watching tours are available for only a limited amount of time, and should not be missed by anyone on the island during the winter whale watching season.

More details can be found in our Hawaii Whale Watching Guide!

Learn About Humpback Whales
  • Humpback whales travel annually between Hawaii and Alaska to both give birth and raise their young in the warm waters off the islands of Hawaii. Once the calves have become bigger and stronger, the humpback whale pods return to Alaska for spring and summer.
  • Adult humpback whales do not eat while they are in Hawaii, and female humpback whales expend tons of energy feeding their calf during their Hawaiian visit.
  • Humpback whales spend most of their time underwater, but stay on and just below the ocean’s surface for approximately 15 minutes. If they are feeling energetic, you can sometimes see them jump or breach out of the water, and even slap their tails and fins on the water.
  • You will want to catch sight of humpback whales as quickly as possible once they surface since they can stay underwater for up to an hour with lungs as large as a small car.
  • Once a humpback whale calf is born, they gain around 100 lbs a day while their mothers nurse them, and marine biologists and ocean conservationists track the calve’s progress before they head back to Alaska.
  • While humpback whale calves grow exponentially while in Hawaii, adult humpback whales are quite the opposite. They will normally lose around 25% of their body weight during their stay in Hawaii, and need to return to Alaska to feed.
  • Many Big Island whale watching cruise boats come equipped with hydrophones which will allow you to hear the famous whale songs of the humpback whales. Male humpback whales all sing the same complex whale song throughout the season, and then pick-up the following season where the previous song left off.
  • While beautiful whale songs are special in their own way, scientists do not have a definitive reason as to why the humpback whales sing, but it is said that whales sing to communicate, locate food, and find each other.

What to Expect & Know Before You Go
  • Guests who are prone to motion sickness should plan on taking a motion sickness preventative at least one hour prior to departure.
  • Many of the top Big Island whale watching tours book up days or weeks in advance. Be sure to book whale watching tours as early as possible to ensure a spot on the boat.
  • Keep an eye out for the following humpback whale behaviors on the Big Island: A spout of water from the blowhole which will look like a spray from the ocean’s surface, whale tails or fins coming up from the water, or an epic partial or full breech where they will propel themselves out of the water to belly flop onto the surface.
  • Be patient during your Big Island whale watching cruise, and keep your eye out for irregularities on the water. You will never know when humpback whales will make their presence known, and if the humpback whales do not make an appearance during your cruise, enjoy your time in Hawaii’s waters.
  • Federal laws require that all boats and persons stay at least 100 yards away from humpback whales at all times. Sometimes whales become curious and will swim to a boat, and the boats are required to turn off their engines and wait till the humpback whale moves away.
  • The best time for whale watching tours on the Big Island is often during the morning and afternoon since the ocean and winds are much calmer at this time. This is not to say that humpback whales cannot be seen during dusk and sunset, and depending on how active the calves are, they can be quite playful throughout the day.

Best Places for Big Island Whale Watching
For the best whale watching on the Big Island, book whale watching cruises from Kona, Waikoloa, and Hilo. Each of the areas offers unique views and amazing opportunities to see Hawaii’s winter visitors.

  • Kona Whale Watching Tours: Cruises will depart from Kona and Honokohau Pier.
  • Waikoloa & Kohala Whale Watching Tours: These tours take place along the northwest coast of the Big Island, and depart from Anaehoomalu Bay.
  • Hilo Whale Watching Tours: Taking place on the Big Island’s western shore, home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the Hilo tours depart from the Hilo Pier.

Boat Types for Big Island Whale Watching Tours
There are a variety of different boats to choose from, and each offers a unique experience to see humpback whales on Maui.

  • Large single hull, multi-level cruise liner-type mega boat that can accommodate hundreds of guests per cruise.
  • Moderately-sized catamarans that can both be under sail and cruise using an engine, and can accommodate around 30 to 50 passengers at a time.
  • Mono-hulled sailboats that can quickly skim the surface of the water, and will rarely use an engine and ensure a calm and quiet whale watching experience.
  • Speedy Zodiac and Radon style boats will keep you close to the ocean surface, and quickly get you in range of any spotted humpback whales.
  • Single or tandem kayaks are great for the athletic and the adventurous, and are also the most eco-friendly way of seeing Oahu humpback whales.


Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are whale sightings guaranteed on the Big Island?
A: While there is a very high likelihood of seeing humpback whales during a Big Island whale watching cruise, there are no guarantees that you will see a whale on your tour. Some companies do offer “whale guarantees” and if whales are not seen, you can go back on the cruise or sail until you do see them.

Q: What is the best month for whale watching on the Big Island?
A: Whale watching season is between November and April on Maui, and December, January and February are the best months to see humpback whales in Hawaii.

Q: Which island is best for whale watching in Hawaii?
A: While the areas designated as the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary are primarily located between the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai, humpback whales can be seen off the coasts of Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai as well.

Q: Where is the best place for whale watching on the Big Island?
A: The west and northwest shores of the Big Island are a part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, but humpback whales can also be found off the east coast of the Big Island.

Q: What time of day are Big Island humpback whales the most active?
A: Humpback whales in Hawaii are active throughout the day when they are in Hawaii, and while you can see them in the morning, afternoon, and early evening, ocean and wind conditions are normally calmer during the day.

Top-Rated Activities for Big Island

Latest reviews of Big Island Whale Watch Tours

Big Island Whale Watching Cruise from Waikoloa - Hawaii Nautical [Dec-Mar]

THE BEST!

2024/02/10 Families with Young Children Sammy’s Mom

This boat was by far the best option for whale watching. We took my 3 year old son for his birthday, so glad we chose this one. Our captain was determined to have everyone witness all of the amazing sights of whales in t... more

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Big Island Whale Watching Cruise from Waikoloa - Hawaii Nautical [Dec-Mar]

Perfect whale watch!

2024/01/21 Solo Travelers Jan

A most enjoyable experience! Once we spotted a spout in the distance, we motored to it for a wonderful mother-baby whale show! Only recommendation would be to improve the directions to get to the check-in location on the... more

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Big Island Whale Watching Cruise from Waikoloa - Hawaii Nautical [Dec-Mar]

Loved the Whales!

2024/01/10 Families Marissa

My whole family enjoyed this experience! There were plenty of whales breaching and splashing all around us, they gave us a great show. The entire crew was friendly and knowledgeable about the whales and the catamaran too... more

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Big Island Whale Watching Cruise from Waikoloa - Hawaii Nautical [Dec-Mar]

Big Island Waikoloa Whale watching

2023/03/21 Couples Lindsay B

The crew was amazing and qued a mother and baby, possibly 2 to the surface for play time!

Big Island Whale Watching Cruise from Waikoloa - Hawaii Nautical [Dec-Mar]

Up and close!

2023/02/18 Friends MM1

Great experience getting to see the whales up and close. The crew was outstanding and very informative. I highly recommend this excursion if you are ever in the area during the whale’s migratory season. The boat size wa... more

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Big Island Whale Watching Cruise from Waikoloa - Hawaii Nautical [Dec-Mar]

Fun Day!

2023/02/03 Couples Jim

Saw lots of whales. We loved the combination of sailing on a catamaran and seeing whales breaching off in the distance. We highly recommend this tour to anyone visiting Hawaii during whale season.

Big Island Whale Watch Tours | Book Big Island Tours, Activities & Things to Do with HawaiiActivities.com
See whales on the best Big Island whale watching tours this winter, and watch as the Pacific humpback whales rest and play after traveling from Alaska to Hawaii. December and April is whale watching season on the Big Island, and the ocean becomes the winter home for humpback whales and their calves that are born in the island's warm waters, and with whale watching cruises, boat rides, and sails departing from Kona, Waikoloa, and Hilo, there is a whale watching experience perfect for everyone.