Once we get to about the middle of September, whale enthusiasts start to anxiously await the return of the humpback whales (kohola). The first one was spotted last year at the beginning of October and while "official" whale season doesn't start until December 15, there are plenty that apparently don't check their phones before swimming this way!
The best time to see these "winter birds" (annual visitors to Maui) however, is usually January and February.
The humpback whales "summer" in Alaska and about 12,000 whales follow the same migration patterns to Hawaii every year. The whales travel over 3,500 miles in a 4-6 week time frame. Females come to give birth and to raise their calves in the relative predator free, warm waters of Hawaii or to breed (which is why the males come). The gestational period for a humpback whale is 11-12 months, so it is safe to say the calves born one summer where the calves bred the previous summer. The calves are roughly 2,000 pounds at birth (phew!) and gain about 100 pounds a day from their mother's milk, which is 50% fat.
One of the more phenomenal things to experience during whale season is hearing the male humpbacks sing. Each whale has his own song and wherever he left off singing before he starts his journey to Alaska, is where he'll pick up singing once he is back in Hawaiian waters (don't we all sing more when we're in Hawaii!). Scientists believe the songs are to attract females. If you're lucky, can hold your breath for 30 seconds or so, and are snorkeling on West Maui, you can hear the songs underwater. The songs can travel up to 12 miles underwater, but sound so much closer, almost as if you look over your shoulder, a whale will be right there. It is an otherworldly sound, beautiful and mournful all at the same time. Many whale watch companies have hydrophones, so if you prefer to watch from the boat, you won't have to miss out on the experience.
One of our favorite things on Maui is going on a whale watch as often as we can, so if you can't find us during whale season, we're likely on the water!