Whale watching is one of Maui’s most popular ocean activities. Seasonally, humpback whales migrate to Maui from December to April, which is Maui’s winter season, which has lower temperatures that sometimes include rainfall to this tropical isle.
Because knowing what weather conditions are best for whale watching can help you better prepare for your tour experience, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions about how the weather impacts whale watching on Maui.
Weather Conditions and Whale Activity
Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii to mate, birth and have a vacation in the warm tropical waters of the Maui Nui Basin. Whale sightings often include solo animals, animals traveling with their young and sometimes a male escort, and competition pods, which are groups of bulls (male humpback whales) competing for the attention of a female for mating purposes. The humpbacks have a natural flow of resting and activity that is not affected by time of day or by changes in our tropical climate.
Although the weather may not affect the whales activity, it can affect our whale watching efforts. When the water is glassy it may be easier to see whales, but we actually observe a little more surface activity when the weather isn’t perfect!
Whale Watching with Clouds and Rain
Wind, clouds and a little tropical rain are typical for Maui’s winter season and do not affect the whale watching conditions. It helps to remember that our Humpback whales spend much of their time in Alaska so they are used to cooler waters, a little wind and rain. Maui’s air temperature can range from 65-90 degrees fahrenheit during whale migration, so you don’t have to worry about freezing conditions, but it can get cooler onboard if there is a little rain, ocean spray from the wind and cloud cover.
You’re experience is only as good as your attire. Not sure who said that, but it’s true!
What to Wear to go Whale Watching
Here’s what to wear and bring when you’re embarking on a whale watching tour. Most tours are barefoot charters because the deck of the boat can get damp or wet if there is any overspray or ocean water coming in. Wear shoes that are easy to remove and store. Our vessels offer dry storage for all guests on all tours.
If you have to wear shoes just let the captain and crew know and they will accommodate you best they can! Whale watching tours do not include getting in the water, so wearing comfortable clothing is the only requirement, you will be sitting or standing throughout the tour duration. If the weather is a bit cooler, you will be glad you brought a sweater or sweatshirt.
We sell Ultimate Whale Watch sweatshirts at the booth if you forgot yours and need a little extra warmth, and you can purchase one before you get on the boat.
Life jackets are not mandatory by the coast guard and are not worn on the boat. They are accessible in case of emergencies but are not distributed to guests. If you would like to bring or request one for your comfort just let them know when you check in and when you board your trip.
If the tour looks like if may get a bit wet from sea spray, the crew will hand out ponchos to keep you dry. You can bring your own poncho as well, it may be handy as Maui can have random tropical rainfall as well.
Sunglasses and a hat are a must! Maui’s sun can directly or indirectly be bright, even when there is cloud cover. Our vessels offer shade, but hat and sunglasses allow you to watch whales without being concerned about the direction of the sun.
Best Weather Conditions for Photographing Whales
Definitely bring your camera! Sunlight and time of day do not affect whale activity but it can affect your photography opportunities. If you are looking to get fun, casual whale watching photos, anytime of day works great! But if you are a professional photographer the ambient light of mornings and evenings is best, and those stormy days can often produce an epic sunset, perfect for capturing images of humpback whales in Maui’s tropical waters!
Underwater photos can be taken using Go-Pros, waterproof cell phones or professional cameras with water housings. If you are looking to take underwater photos, please communicate this with your crew so they can show you the best techniques for capturing those shots.
Whale Watching During Thunderstorms
If the weather and rain are going to be severe, or there are thunderstorms, we cancel and reschedule our guests. Thunderstorms have a risk of lighting and being on the water with that risk is not safe. We always adhere to all Coast Guard protocol for weather and safety practices. Safety is our top priority and having a fun, positive whale watching experience is top of our list as well, which is why we make weather decisions based on both of those factors.
Always book your whale watching tours toward the beginning of your vacation in case the tour has to be rescheduled due to weather, you have availability to move your trip and don’t miss out on your Maui whale watching excursion.
Our Boats Enhance the Experience!
Because our vessels are modeled after Coast Guard rescue rafts, they are quick, maneuverable and extremely safe in weather. This allows us to travel to the whales faster without breaking speed limits of the sanctuary, and giving us more time whale watching and less time traveling at slow paces.
The hard bottom inflatable style vessels are perfect for guests looking for a small group tour without the crowds and hoping for those close to the water marine life encounters.
Weather Predictions for Maui are Tricky!
Predicting weather can be tricky here in the Hawaiian Islands because it changes so frequently. We find most weather predictions more than 24 hours before are inaccurate. We also use multiple weather tracking systems including NOAA, Passage Weather and Windy to see what the ocean conditions are doing on a daily basis. Our captains have been navigating these waters for more than a decade and also use their experience to determine if the weather conditions will affect the whale watching tour.
Because the weather does not affect whale activity significantly, it’s up to us to dress for the weather, choose lighting that works for our photography endeavors and be flexible with our schedule so we can have the best whale watching experience on Maui!
To book a whale watching tour click here!