Thar She Blows! An Intro To Common Whale Behavior On Maui Whale Watching Tours

WE GOT MUGGED! Watch to the end as a humpback whale makes a spy hop to check out our boat yesterday. An unforgettable experience for all! Trilogy boats do not approach whales within 100 yards, however, whales are curious animals that occasionally come up to check us out.

Whale season in Maui is finally upon us, and our Maui whale watching tours are reporting amazing sightings on every trip that heads out. While we can always guarantee humpback sightings during our whale watching tours in Maui, no two tours over the course of the season are ever completely the same. Even if you've been on a whale watch before, or dozens over the course of your lifetime, there is always the chance that taking one more tour could offer a new experience.

When whale watching in Maui,  it isn't the total number of whales that's really very important. Instead, it's what those whales are doing that can make the difference in a whale watch. After all, what would you rather see during a Maui whale watching tour? An ocean full of whales which are just logging at the surface, or a handful of whales which are breaching, pec slapping, spyhopping, and peduncle-throwing their way across the ocean? Humpbacks are known as the most acrobatic of all the world's whale species, and if you can't quite name all the "moves" that humpbacks have in their repertoire, here is a guide which you can use to decipher the most common humpback maneuvers.

Tail Slap

A whale tail hello! Enjoy a tail slap. . ***This video was taken following Dolphin SMART's criteria for responsible wildlife viewing. For more info, check out: *** . . Follow Us: YouTube: Facebook: Instagram: Twitter: Pinterest:

Vigorous tail slapping is one of the easiest maneuvers to spot on a Maui whale watching tour. Striking the water with their powerful flukes, a whale will repeatedly splash against the water anywhere from 3-30 times.

Peduncle Wave

Lisa Graham pec wave watermark border

Lisa Graham pec wave watermark border

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

Despite being the world's 5th largest whale, humpback whales have the largest fin of any animal in the sea (even longer than the fin of a blue whale, whose short fins are similar to a T-Rex dinosaur with short, stumpy arms). More than just being long, the pectoral fin is also incredibly agile, and it's what helps the humpbacks with their aerial maneuvers and ability to twist through the water. Sometimes a whale will wave its pectoral fin, while other times it will repeatedly strike it against the surface of the water.

Spy Hop

Photo Credit: Captain Katie

Not seen as often as a pec wave or a tail slap, a spy hop is when a whale will poke straight out of the water to scan what's happening above the surface. Humpback whales have just as good vision above water as they do below water, and here a very inquisitive humpback spy hops to check us out.

Peduncle Throw

MindsEye_PJ on Flickr

While not entirely as common as a breach, a peduncle throw is an aggressive maneuver where a humpback whale will throw the latter half of its body out of the water. The peduncle muscle that comprises the back third of the whale's body is the largest muscle in the animal kingdom, and it's the driving force behind explosive maneuvers such as breaches and peduncle throws like this one.

Head Lunge

Whale watching in Maui

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

A head lunge is somewhat like a big belly flop, where a whale will rise about a third of the way out of the water and then splash back down to the surface. This behavior is most commonly seen in large competition pods, where groups of males who are competing for a female will lunge and splash at each other. Here, a large whales prepares for a lunge off the southern coastline of Lana'i.


Photo Credit: Trilogy Excursions

Logging is a term which refers to when a whale is floating just beneath the surface. With only their blowholes and peduncle fin breaking the surface of the water, it's almost as if they're sunbathing for a moment or taking a relaxing nap. You'll often see logging when there is a large mother who nursing a newborn calf, or after an extended series of breaches when the whale simply needs to rest.

Sounding Dive

Photo Credit: Trilogy Excursions

Adult humpbacks can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes, and you know that a whale is taking an extended dive when you see the tail flukes go vertical. The good news about a sounding dive is that it makes for a nice photo opportunity (and the chance to see the pattern on the bottom of the flukes), but it also usually means the whale is waving goodbye for a while.

Swimming Inverted

Derek Klein watermark border

Derek Klein watermark border

Photo Credit: T Derek Klein

Every year there are a couple of whale watching tours where we are treated to a special show. Sometimes whales will approach the boat when we are completely stopped in the water, and they will swim around the boat in circles and even swim upside down. This is what's known as being "mugged" by a whale, because there is nothing we can do to move the boat until the whale decides to leave. Here you can see the white underbelly of a whale which is swimming completely inverted.


Surprise!! A rare video capture on our way back from Lana'i. Vid cred: Nancy from Texas, who was on the right boat at the right time. ***This video was taken following Dolphin SMART's criteria for responsible wildlife viewing. For more info, check out: *** . . Follow Us: YouTube:

Without a doubt the full breach is everyone's favorite move, and there are few words to describe the sense of awe of watching a 40-ton animal jump. With little to no warning, these powerful animals will propel themselves out of the water with only 2-3 flaps of their flukes. For an adult humpback, this can mean lifting 90,000-100,000 pounds completely out of the water. While we don't know the exact reasons that humpbacks choose to breach, theories range from sloughing off barnacles and working out their tail muscles to trying to look around. The most commonly agreed upon theory, however, is that humpback whales perform dramatic breaches simply because they can.

Of course, the only thing better than a full breach in front of the the boat is the rarely seen, rarely photographed...

Double Breach!

Double Breach on a whale watch in Maui

Photo Credit: Trilogy Excursions

Do you have photos of a good whale move in Maui? Send us photos on our Facebook page, or come and join us for a whale watching tour during the exciting whale season in Maui. Have any questions about whales in Maui? Leave us a question in the comments below and we'll be more than happy to reply!