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Posted on May 27, 2013 | 19 comments

Pacific Whale Foundation: Whale Watching in Lahaina Harbor

Pacific Whale Foundation: Whale Watching in Lahaina Harbor

One of our first mornings after landing on Maui we woke up before the sun came up to go whale watching in Lahaina Harbor. It wasn’t officially whale season with the kick-off date being 2 weeks away. With so many whales already being spotted in Maui waters, we didn’t let the date stop us.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Just Before Sunrise in Lahaina

Sunrise Whalewatch Lahainae

We picked such an early morning boat to watch the sun come up over the water, as well as much less people being on the early morning boats. Not many people want to be at the dock at 5:45 am. It is also said to be the time more whales are near the water’s surface. We had no idea what the day had in store for us as we pushed off from Lahaina Harbor for our morning of whale watching.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Sunrise in Lahaina.

As the sun slowly started to creep up, the light grew soft and warm with a rosy glow. We quickly started to see that there were North Pacific Humpback Whales all around us in the water. We’d catch a glimpse of their back going under water or large air bubbles coming up in the water showing us the whales were just below the service. The sun continued to slowly make it’s climb into the sky as these beautiful creatures swam around us.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Our first glimpse of a whale’s tail.

Humpback Whales

We were taken back how in such a short amount of time in the water, we had already seen so many signs of the humpback whales who come to visit Lahaina each year to breed and give birth. We shouldn’t have been surprised since Maui is the best place to see the North Pacific Humpback Whales. Yet, you have no idea how many there really are until they are all around you.

A whale’s tail flapped up into the air and back down again on the water. It came up and moved back and forth almost like the whale was waving at us. It made for a good laugh until seeing a humpback whale lift its self out of the water and breach. Seeing a whale breach is unbelievable. The incredible amount of power it takes for them to push themselves out of the water and throw themselves into the air is something you can’t really phantom until you see it in person. Blink and you will miss it. Every time it happened so fast, our camera always missed it.

Safety of the Whales Comes First

To protect the whales, boats are not allowed to get within 1000 yards of them. It’s best for the whales to not cause them stress and to make sure they don’t get injured. Due to this, even though we were seeing a great amount of whales, they were still pretty far away from us. If the whales are to come to you is another story, so I kept thinking I wanted them to move closer to us.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Picking her head up from the water.

An Unbelievable Whale Experience

What happened next, we still can’t believe. It seemed like a dream the next day when I woke up and still does to this day. It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had in my life. If it hadn’t been for the pictures I took that morning. I would still be second guessing myself if it happened or not.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Swimming the backstroke under our boat.

A beautiful whale started swimming closer and closer to our boat. She swam up right next to us, poking her head up out of the water to take a peak at the humans. She would swim to one side of the boat, poke her head up, duck back under the water, swimming under the boat to the other side. At times, we were unsure if we we’re the one’s doing the whale watching or she was watching us. It was one of the more amazing things I’ve ever seen.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Her tail as if came up from the water.

She continued to swim back and forth under our boat, coming up on each side to watch us. Our boat had to shut down its propellers to not hurt her. In a way, she took our boat hostage, not allowing us to leave the area. We should have already started to head back to the dock by this time, but instead we were left out in Lahaina Harbor enjoying the crisp morning while a North Pacific Humpback Whale got her fill of the people.

Whale Watching Lahaina

North Pacific Humpback Whale coming up out of the waters near Lahaina.

Then the most unbelievable thing happened. She came up right in front of me on the boat, peering over the edge at me. She was inches away from me; if I’d just reached my hand out my hand, I could have touched her. A voice inside my head stopped me to respect her and her time in the harbor. She pulled away, throwing herself on to her back and moving a little further away from our boat.

Whale Watching Lahaina

She peaked up on to the boat, right in front of me.

Whale Watching Lahaina

If I’d just reached out my hand, I could have touched her.

Whale Watching Lahaina

She threw herself back, pushing away from the boat.

Whale Watching Lahaina

Swimming away from our boat.

When I think back on that day, I always question myself if it really happened. The memories are like that of a lucid dream. One thing I know for sure, having a Humpback Whale come up right in front of you doesn’t happen every day. I continue to feel blessed for having the experience and sharing it with Drew. As well as, for the whale to share herself with us in such an intimate way. This was a life changing event for me that would have never happened without our love to travel. Pacific Whale Foundation is the only company we take for whale watching and snorkeling tours while on Maui. They provide you with knowledgeable education, reef-safe sunscreen, great food and drink, and always an amazing experience. If you are wanting to whale watch in Lahaina, we highly recommend Pacific Whale Foundation’s Sunrise Whalewatch tour.

Have you ever been on a tour to whale watch in Lahaina?

All photography by Kimmy Hayes © 2013.

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About Kimmy Hayes

Kimmy Hayes is the founder and editor-in-chief of AfterGlobe; a site on becoming debt free and traveling the world as a married couple. In 2012, she planned and coordinated her own do-it-yourself destination wedding on the beautiful island of Maui while serving as a moderator for the on-line community, The Knot. She is passionate about traveling to experience new cultures, snorkeling the waters of the world and reading with her toes in the sand.


  1. What a cool experience! Sounds amazing, especially in Maui! We did a whale watching tour in Boston–it was really cool, but doesn’t sound near as awesome as this one! So glad you got to see one so close up :)

    • Thank you! It really was amazing and awesome.

  2. What a fantastic experience! Great photos!

    • Thank you! One more reason for you to go to Maui, Meagan.

    • Thanks, Jessica. It really was unbelievable. Something, I’m sure will never happen, again.

  3. Great story! I’ve never actually been on a whale watching excursion, but grew up on a beach on Molokai, went out fishing and diving regularly, and was accustomed to seeing the humpback whales every winter. But no matter how long I’ve seen them, they never get mundane. There is ALWAYS a rush of excitement and a shot of adrenaline that runs through me when I spot a humpback or hear it’s song while in the water. Truly magnificent and awesome!
    JR Riel recently posted…CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Carnival of Drifter Tales! My Profile

    • Hearing them sing is amazing. Especially while in the water. Sounds like you had some pretty awesome childhood experiences.

  4. What a great piece, love your photographs. I’ve never seen a whale of any sorts above the waterline. While scuba diving in Costa Rica I heard their song, they call into the bay where we were diving to chill on their migratory path. I’m semi glad I didn’t see them while I was underwater! i think I would have freaked out at seeing something so big down there with me!
    Charli l Wanderlusters recently posted…Confessions Of A Divemaster In TrainingMy Profile

    • They are very graceful, beautiful creatures. I promise even though they are big, you can sense hoe gentle they are.

    • We were there just before whale season started at the end of last January. Whale season will be over by the time you get there. July is still a great time to visit. We were there in July last year, too.

  5. Great photos. Sounds like a great experience! Have been whale watching and it was fabulous. Would love to go again!


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