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Whale Watching Tips

In Hawaii, humpback whales can be easily spotted from land or sea as they frequent Hawaii’s nearshore waters.  Remember, by regulation, humpback whales cannot be approached closer than 100 yards. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy your whale watching experience. 

1.  Check the weather conditions

Some weather conditions, such as increased wind and sea state, may decrease your likelihood of spotting whales.  Pay attention to weather reports prior to heading outside.

2.     Pack Outdoor Gear

Sun protection - When watching whales always be sure to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect your skin and eyes.  Make sure your hat and sunglasses are secure so they won’t get lost.  Polarized sunglasses are the best type to use for whale watching, but any sunglasses will be helpful.  The combination of the sun and reflection from the water can increase your chances of getting sunburn even on a cloudy day so be sure to use sunscreen on any exposed skin as well as lip protection with sunblock. 

Camera – Capturing photos or video of your whale watching experience can help you share your experience with others, but just keep in mind that your camera could get wet or at a minimum will be exposed to salt air.  Also, don’t focus all your attention on getting the photos or you may miss the whales and the fun!  If you do decide to take a camera, a camera with a zoom lens is best.

Binoculars/Spotting Scope – Bring binoculars if you have them.  Once you have spotted a whale with your naked eye use the binoculars to focus in and watch its behavior.  Keep in mind that using binoculars on a boat for an extended period of time could increase chances of seasickness.  If you’re viewing whales from the shoreline, a spotting scope which can be mounted on a tripod may come in handy as well.

Makapuu Point whale sign
Makapu`u Point, O`ahu, HIHWNMSs

Food & Beverages – Bring bottled water and snacks on your excursion (whether by land or sea).  Some whale watching boats may have food available so find out before you head out and plan accordingly based on the amount of time you will be gone.  It’s also a great idea to take a bag along for your trash - please be sure to keep all trash from entering the water and endangering sea life.

Clothing – Depending upon weather conditions, you may want to consider bringing a light jacket to break the chill of the wind.  Also be sure to wear appropriate footwear.  If watching whales from a shoreline location that requires hiking closed-toed shoes are recommended. 

Seasickness Remedies – If you are prone to seasickness, consider taking motion sickness medicine prior to your trip (consult a doctor to find out which type is best for you).  Most medications should be taken at least one hour before the trip.  Once on the boat be sure to drink enough water to stay hydrated.  Sipping on carbonated beverages can help seasickness as can eating crackers, bread, and products containing ginger (candy or cookies).  Other special products such as motion sickness wristbands can be purchased at most drug stores.  Keeping your eye on the horizon and keeping yourself cool throughout the trip can also help with seasickness.

3.     Spotting Whales

Humpback whales can be seen performing a variety of behaviors during the winter months in Hawai`i.  Begin by scanning the surface of the ocean from left to right, looking for the humpback’s blow which can be 10-20 feet tall (for an adult humpback).  Depending upon ocean conditions, the blow can be spotted easily.  Adult humpbacks surface approximately every 10-15 minutes to breathe; however they can remain submerged for longer periods of time.  Calves will surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe.  Once you have spotted a humpback, use your binoculars to get a closer view of their behavior.  If you’re lucky you will have the opportunity to see a whale breach right in front of your eyes.

Enjoy Your Whale Watching Adventure!

Learn more about responsible wildlife viewing and Ocean Etiquette!


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