Hawaii Island Whale Watching Tours

By Karen Rose

Photo: Body Glove Hawaii.

Every year from December to May, visitors flock to the Island of Hawaiʻi to catch a glimpse of the majestic kohalā, or Humpback whale. Ten to 15,000 humpback whales make their annual pilgrimage to Hawaiʻi from the Gulf of Alaska to give birth to their young in the warm tropical waters. They make the 3000-mile trek in six to eight weeks, moving at an average speed of four miles per hour.

The best way to view Humpback whales and experience their awe-inspiring beauty and enormous size is to journey out to sea with an ocean guide and tour boat. Many whale watching companies have a knowledgeable naturalist on board who will provide fun facts about one of the world’s largest mammals. Here are some of the most popular whale watching tour operators on Hawaiʻi Island.

Hawaii Nautical

Morning Whale Watch with Hawaii Nautical

Hawaii Nautical offers a Whales Guaranteed experience in Kona on their 1.5 hour eco-friendly whale watching excursion. Catch these beautiful mammals at their best. Dolphins are also likely to be seen. Available December through April. $79 adults. $39.50 children.


The first whale sighting of the year is one way locals determine the beginning of winter on Hawaiʻi Island. It is not unusual to be gazing over the vast Pacific Ocean and witness a breach one of these 40-foot long, 40 ton marine animals. The majestic creatures put on quite the display for visitors hoping to see some tail slapping, lunging and breaching off the Hawaiian shores. For a “Whales Guaranteed” whale watch tour, join Hawaii Nautical on their 30′ 500hp, 15 passenger powerboat for an adventurous, eco-friendly whale watching excursion. The Hawaii Nautical tours depart from Honokohau Harbor in Kailua-Kona. Click here to see other tours offered by Hawaii Nautical.

Learn more about Hawaii Nautical.

Body Glove Cruises

Body Glove Cruises offers visitors the opportunity to go whale watching in style aboard their 65-foot catamaran with lots of walk-around room, comfortable seating and plenty of shade. The cruise includes light snacks, island juices, sodas, Kona coffee, assorted teas, hot chocolate and a premium cash bar. Body Glove’s on-board naturalist is knowledgeable and entertaining, and underwater hydrophones allow guests to hear the beautiful sounds of Humpback whales singing. Body Glove launches out of the Kailua pier in downtown Kailua-Kona.

Captain Zodiac

The warm waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands are crystal clear, allowing for excellent underwater visibility, and the perfect place for Humpback whales to give birth to their calves. Scientists estimate there are over 20,000 humpback whales in the Pacific Northwest. It’s believed that two-thirds of this population returns to Hawaiʻi every year to give birth. For whale enthusiasts seeking a high-speed thrill ride adventure, Captain Zodiac is entertaining, informative and fun. Launching from Keauhou bay, its small size allows for the exploration of sea caves and other unique lava formations.

Ocean Sports

Visitors who choose to venture out on an exciting whale watching adventure are likely to run into a few other surprise visitors along the way. Spinner dolphins, manta rays, and an occasional shark or sea turtle might show up to say aloha. Regulations require tour boats to stay a minimum of 100 yards from the whales, however they sometimes get curious and swim up to the boat faster than the captain can steer away. This activity is called “mugging.” If a tour boat has the fortune of being mugged by Humpback whales, visitors are offered the opportunity to get up close and personal with these massive creatures. However, because they are so enormous in size, they still look gigantic at a 100-yard distance. Ocean Sports launches out of A-Bay in Waikoloa and offers daily trips from within the National Marine Humpback Whale Sanctuary waters. With their spacious catamarans, trained naturalists and underwater hydrophones, it’s an unforgettable day on the water.

Dolphin Discoveries

With a body the size of a bus and lungs the size of a sports car, whales can remain underwater for up to 45 minutes at a time. Tour guests are urged to have their cameras ready for action because the whales can make an appearance than disappear in a flash. Dolphin Discoveries, which launches out of Keauhou Bay is an exclusive charter to find the not only the Humpback whales, but other species such as Pilot whales, Beaked whales and Melon-headed whales. The captain focuses on finding these magnificent mammals and spending quality time with them to observe, learn, photograph and listen to their vocalizations with an underwater hydrophone.

Book A Tour

Every tour is unique and every day on the water can bring new and unexpected sights. Mother Nature doesn’t take instructions from anyone, so the whales can be curious and friendly one day, and quiet and shy the next. Because of their fickle nature, many tour companies offer a guaranteed sighting, so if there are no sightings on the whale watching trip, visitors can come out again at any time with no expiration date. Guests can check with the company when they book their tour. Whale watching is a must-do activity when visiting Hawaiʻi Island during whale season. It is no wonder it’s one of the most popular times of the year to visit the Island of Hawaiʻi.

See also: Whale Watching on Big Island – with tips on where to see the most “whale action”

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