Whale- and Dolphin-Watching
Each winter, some two-thirds of the North Pacific humpback whale population (about 4,000–5,000 animals) migrate over 3,500 miles from the icy Alaska waters to the warm Hawaiian ocean to mate and, the following year, give birth to and nurse their calves. Recent reports indicate that the whale population is on the upswing—a few years ago one even ventured into the mouth of Hilo Harbor, which marine biologists say is quite rare. Humpbacks are spotted here from early December through the end of April, but other species, like sperm, pilot, and beaked whales as well as spinner, spotted, and bottlenose dolphins, can be seen year-round. If you take a morning cruise, you're more likely to see dolphins.
Captain Dan McSweeney's Whale Watch Learning Adventures. Captain Dan McSweeney, self-described whale researcher and conservationist, offers three-hour trips on his double-decker, 40-foot cruise boat. In addition to humpbacks (in winter), he'll try to show you dolphins and some of the six other whale species that live off the Kona Coast throughout the year. McSweeney guarantees you'll see whales or he'll take you out again for free. Honokōhau Harbor, 74-381 Kealakehe Pkwy., Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, 96740. 808/322–0028; 888/942–5376; www.ilovewhales.com. $120.
Hawaii Nautical. The only NOAA-designated "Dolphin SMART" operator in Hawaii, this company practices strict guidelines for viewing protected marine animals, including dolphins and whales. You can be assured that you'll enjoy a wonderful ocean tour, see plenty of animals, and not be a part of harming or impacting the animal's activities or habitats. 74-425 Kealakehe Parkway, Slip I-10, Kailua-Kona, 96740. 808/234-7245; www.hawaiinautical.com. From $79.
Living Ocean Adventures. Captain Tom Bottrell, a U.S. Merchant Marine officer who also holds a bachelor's degree in meteorology and oceanography, and a master's in ecology from the University of Michigan, is ideally qualified to lead whale-watching tours in Kona waters. Excursions on board the six-person Spinner last about four hours and can be booked as private or shared charters; each tour focuses on the biology, ecology, and conservation of these magnificent creatures. The company practices responsible marine mammal viewing in line with NOAA's Dolphin SMART guidelines. Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. 808/325–5556; www.livingoceanadventures.com. From $110.