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  • Writer's pictureBrynn Rovito

Whale Watching in Waikiki

It's that time of year! It's whale-watching season in Hawaii. Whale-watching season runs from November and May.

Every winter 8,000 - 12,000 North Pacific Humpback whales make their way to the Hawaiian Islands. Visiting us all the way from Alaska, they come to Hawaii to enjoy the warm shallow waters and to birth and nurse their babies.

We got a visit from well-respected Captain Dave Jung this week. Captain Jung is the President and Senior Captain of the Hawaii Ocean Project. His boat, the Lahaina Princess, is one of our neighbors in the harbor. This week, he took time out of his busy schedule to walk over and introduce himself. Captain Jung used to run dinner cruises on the Vida Mia when she was a luxury cruiser in Maui. He took guests between Maui and Molokai for sunset dinner cruises, and of course, had plenty to share about Vida Mia in her heyday in the late 70s.

I love hearing old stories about Vida Mia, but he also told us some really cool facts about the whale population here in Hawaii.

Whales and boats

Did you know that the whale population in Hawaii has grown by 7% every year for the last 30 years? That's a lot of blubber! In other parts of the world, the whale population is sadly disappearing, but not here in Hawaii. Back in the 70's whales were never spotted in Waikiki, but due to the population increase, we are able to spot whales regularly throughout the season.

And, little known to most people, whales are starting to warm up to boaters. The new generation of whales are changing their behavior patterns. Captain Jung shared an interesting story of a mama humpback coming right up to the boat and showing off her newborn calf on her back.

Whales live to be about 100 years old. In 1973 whaling was made illegal by the government. So any whale born after 1973 does not have the traumatic memories of being hunted by humans on ships. No wonder they were scared of boats! It seems the new trauma-free generation of whales are friendly and welcoming to boats that approach them. We find the same things applies to spinner dolphins that greet us on our morning coffee cruises. They play along the bow and seem to recognize the Vida Mia as she makes her way to Diamond Head every morning.

Whaling Ships in Hawaii

In 1891, the first whaling ships arrived in Hawaii. These ships were from New England and headed for Japan. They voyaged long distances to visit areas where the whales were abundant. Back then, whale products were in high demand. Whale oil was used for heating, lamps, in industrial machinery, and whalebone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas, and buggy whips.

Whaling never really took place around the Hawaiian islands. Instead, whaling ships took advantage of our geographic location to refit and repair their ships after unloading their cargo. Hawaii was basically a stopover - not a bad place to rest after coming back from the treacherous conditions in Alaska's Bering Sea. The boats could be found during the spring and fall of the year, eliminating the dangerous months beating southeast and then around the horn to the Atlantic seaboard.

A snippet from a whaling map showing historical whaling routes. Hawaii was a nice stop after returning from Alaska and gave seamen ample time to rest before embarking on the long journey around Cape Horn.

The port of Honolulu served as a bustling marketplace for tired seamen. In the mid-1800s, the whaling industry was a huge part of Hawaii's economy. Honolulu's first marine outfitting and ship chandlery business opened was established in 1823. By 1840, local craftsmen were able to heave out copper bottoms and they had two facilities for berthing ships weighing up to 600 tons.

A whaleship from New England visiting a custom house that stood near the foot of Nuuanu Street in Honolulu. This early photograph dates back to 1860s

This activity gave a nice boost to small business owners. The seamen would hit the grog shops and stock up on supplies like mullet, sugarcane...and women (hehe). Alas, now it's more common to find an Uber driver eagerly awaiting for passengers to disembark from one of the large cruise ships. We don't long as they bring a few of them over to the Vida Mia for a cruise :)

It's hard to think of these beautiful creatures being hunted. The pictures are gruesome and the work was dangerous, but the upside was that whaling brought a burst of industry here to Hawaii.

Whale Watching Season on the Vida Mia

Of course, the Vida Mia was never used as a whaling vessel, she's always had a happy history here on the islands. She served as a favorite vessel for whale-watching tours...and was a popular whale-watching boat in Maui during the 70s and 80s.

Sunrise whale watching can be experienced on our popular coffee cruise. The coffee cruise is catered by Honolulu Coffee Company.

Family watching whales from the Vida Mia Yacht

A family enjoying the majestic views of Diamond Head on one of our whale-watching cruises.

Heading to Maui?

If you plan to island hop while you are here in Hawaii, Maui is one of the best places to spot these majestic creatures.

If you are looking for an epic whale-watching tour in Maui, we highly recommend the Hawaii Ocean Project. They have some of the most comfortable, stable, and spacious whale-watching boats. Located in the Lahaina Harbor. 675 Wharf Street, Lahaina, Maui 96761.

Whale-watching season in Hawaii is between November and May.

Reference Guide: The Saga of the Sandwich Islands, Edward B. Scott (1968)

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