Cruise Humpback TerritoryBig Island

Anyone who climbs aboard a vessel this time of the year and heads for the open ocean off Hawai‘i Island can expect to see HUMPBACK WHALES. There are so many of them that most boat companies don’t hesitate to guarantee sightings.

(Truth is: It’s hard to miss a 40-ton humpback when it propels its 45-foot bulk to the surface and then disappears in an enormous salt-water splash!)

Every year, humpback whales swim 3,000 miles from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska to mate and calve in Hawai‘i’s clear, warm waters. The FIRST WHALE of the 2014-15 season was spotted September 16 off the west coast of Kaua‘i and, generally, numbers peak in LATE DECEMBER THROUGH MID-APRIL.

Protected under ENDANGERED SPECIES laws, the humpback population is growing. In fact, an estimated 10,000 humpbacks are expected to cruise through Hawai‘i’s waters this season, coming and going at their own pace.

Though the humpbacks are the seasonal stars of the show, the waters off this island are home to substantial populations of lower-profile whales that are here year-round and equally intriguing to observe, like the FALSE KILLER WHALE, PILOT WHALE, PYGMY WHALE, BEAKED WHALE, MELON-HEADED WHALE and even the SPERM WHALE.

There are many ways to observe a humpback whale in the wild. Snorkel cruises are a good bet. Powered rafts and fishing boats also travel humpback territory. KAILUA BAY CHARTER CO. offers exclusive charters aboard its shallow draft glass-bottom boat. For a flat rate, groups of up to 24 passengers can view the reef and ocean depths of the Kona Coast, where humpbacks abound in the winter months, before jumping off the deep end to explore the waters first-hand. Guests can bring snacks, food and spirits; the crew supplies everything else.

Two good viewing sites are Lapakahi State Historical Park, north of Kawaihae at mile marker 14, and Kapa‘a Beach Park off Highway 270. Traveling north, turn left on the one-lane paved road just past mile marker 16.

Adventure X Rafting (808) 937-7245
Blue Sea Cruises (808) 331-8875
Body Glove Cruises (800) 551-8911
Captain Zodiac Raft Expeditions (808) 329-3199
Dolphin Discoveries (808) 322-8000
Fair Wind Cruises (808) 345-0244
Hanamana (808) 936-5855
• Kailua Bay Charter Co. (808) 324-1749
Kamanu Charters (808) 329-2021
Kona Boat Rentals (808) 326-9155
Lava Ocean Tours 808) 966-4200
Lava Roy’s Ocean Adventure Tours (808) 883-1122
Manta Ray Dives Of Hawaii (808) 325-1687
Neptune Charlies Ocean Safaris (808) 331-2184
Ocean Eco Tours (808) 324-7873
Sea Quest (808) 329-7238
Splasher’s Ocean Adventures (808) 326-4774
Sunlight On Water (808) 270-8765