As tourism opens up there is one thing on a lot of visitor's mind-- Can You Swim With Whales on Maui?
Maui is home to some of the most amazing wildlife that the Pacific (and by association, North America) has to offer. Whether you are looking to visit and learn more about the flora and fauna, or more inclined to trip alongside the marine life that uniquely calls Maui home; there is so much to see!
However, with the distinct and rare wildlife that lives from the top of the volcano to the depths of the ocean shores around Maui and its surrounding islands— that leads locals and visitors alike to lean on the phrase “protect the aina”.
This, in essence, means respect and protect the land and its resident wildlife. There are many ways to do this from using reef safe sunscreen like “Raw Love”, which we at Hawaii Ocean Rafting provide for free on our whale watching and snorkel tours; to making sure that you keep a safe distance from the wildlife itself, to avoid interupting their behavior patterns.
How to Interact with Maui's Whales
The best way to interact with the whales that visit Maui each winter is from the safety of a boat. It is illegal to swim with both dolphins and whales in Maui— and there are some obvious and more nuanced reasons why.
In the past few years it has gone from highly discouraged to get as up and close as possible with the marine life both year round and seasonal in Hawaii, to illegal. The greatest reason why is it is unsafe for both the spectator as well as the creature they are wishing to observe up close.
One of the greatest examples is Maui’s turtles— many dream of swimming alongside turtles up and down the white sand coastlines but this is highly dangerous. When it comes to turtles (and the creature seas life in general) we encourage the 6 foot + rule of distance.
The best way to interact with the sea life, including whales, is from a boat under the guidance of an experienced professional. This ensures interactions are following federal guidelines to keep both the marine animals and the viewers safe!
(Photo above: This is called a mugging. This occurs when the whales choose to come to the boat instead of us going to them. This ensures the whale has the choice to approach and we are not interrupting their behavior. These are rare and special whale encounters!)
Where to Find Whales on Maui
The best place to find whales to observe from what feels like an up-close (but safe for both the visitor and the animal) is on a boat captained by a seasoned professional and marine naturalist crew.
You know you have booked an amazing tour when you not only find you are learning an immense amount about Maui, the pacific waters, and the whales; and it feels like you could be swimming with the whale due to the intimacy of the tour.
At Hawaii Ocean Rafting, we operate our tours out of Lahaina’s harbor. This location often provides the best whale watching experience you can get due to it's west Maui location. The waters outside of Lahaina are preferred for humpback whales, making it a quicker trip out to the waters populated during the winter with these creatures.
However, if you are wishing to swim in the warm waters of Maui, no matter the season, you can do so through a licensed snorkel tour (which we also offer)! Just make sure that you are wearing your reef safe sunscreen! Our snorkel tours won't be will whales but you may hear their whale songs when you are underwater snorkeling with tropical fish and sea turtles.
Why You Shouldn’t Swim with Whales in Maui
As mentioned, there are a multitude of reasons why you shouldn’t swim with Maui’s whales visiting for the winter; however, it all comes down to the safety of you and the mammal.
The female whales are most likely pregnant, if not, having just given birth to their young. Like most mothers, they are protective and are looking to raise their young in the safe warm waters that line Maui’s coastline. Approaching whales closer than 100 yards by boat or swimming or snorkeling is illegal. Federal protections like this have allowed the humpback whale population to recover without our interference with their behavior and migration patterns. Close whale encounters do happen, but it's the choice of the whale to come to the boat. When this happens being on a low to water raft gives you an eye-level whale watching encounter you won't forget!
The best way to encounter whales during their stay while being safe and respectful is to book through a trusted professional whale watching company in Maui. While you can see whales from shore, a guided whale watching tour will include education and has the resources for watching the most whales during your vacation to Maui.