Whale Watching on Kauai’s West Coast

Not even five minutes into my whale watching tour, a whale breached in front of our catamaran.

With whale watching in Hawaii high on my list of activities that I wanted to experience on my February 2016 Kauai trip, I was delighted to be offered a two hour Poipu Sunset Whale Watching Tour by Blue Dolphin Charters.

I set out on February 4th for Ele’ele Harbor on the west coast of Kauai, the home base for Blue Dolphin, allowing plenty of time to arrive for the 3:30 check-in for my 4:00pm tour. There was some paperwork to be completed at check-in before gathering outside of their office, a short walk from the harbor, where our captain greeted us.

My group was greeted by Captain Joe whose first task was to assure us that he was old enough to be licensed as a captain! Although by appearance he seemed a young lad, he in fact has a couple of decades of experience sailing catamarans and we all felt completely safe in the hands of Captain Joe and the additional two man crew.

Before boarding the boat the crew advised us to remove our shoes and leave them in their secure locker on the harbor. Mainly because the deck can become slippery when wet. So, you can decide whether you plan to sit topside in the observation seats for the entire cruise or feel that your shoes have plenty of traction, or you can remove your shoes.

It is easy to board the catamaran where you can choose the upper deck rows of seating or the seating around the outside of the cabin on the lower deck. In our welcome aboard talk our captain’s experience showed. Although displaying a sense of humor throughout our voyage, his maturity and the sense of responsibility with which he takes his job, was apparent as he took care of the first order of business, our safety. Once our safety drill was out of the way, we set sail.

Captain Joe Blue Dolphin whale watching
Captain Joe

Passengers are free to move around the 65’ catarman upper and lower decks. A small cabin and comfortable toilet can be found on the lower deck.

Setting Sail - Blue Dolphin Whale Watching
Setting Sail

As soon as we left the dock welcoming Mai Tais were served. You could help yourself down below, or one of the two additional crew members would bring one up for you. In addition to Mai Tais there was bottled water, beer, wine, soda and juice.

While we were being served our drinks the captain was steering us safely out of the harbor and giving us an overview of what to expect for the day. The plan was to sail south a ways looking for whales as we went. Captain Joe explained that while we were very likely to see whales swimming, as there were quite a few groups of whales in the area, he could not guarantee we would be lucky enough to see one breaching.

Beautiful Day for Whale Watching Catamaran Ride
Beautiful Day for Catamaran Ride

He talked about the disappointment of someone on his cruise earlier in the day whose dream was to see a whale breach the water. In spite of spotting many whales, one not had breached in the entire two hour cruise. As he was explaining to us that there were no guarantees on what we would see during our cruise, and we were barely out of the harbor, we had our first look at a magnificent breaching whale.

First Breach - Blue Dolphin Whale Watching
First Breach – That splash is the reentry.

The captain headed in the direction of the whale, careful to mind the laws about how closely we could approach the whales, when the whale breached again, this time with a baby breaching alongside. Less than a minute later the larger whale sounded (dove straight down with its tail up as it entered the water).

Captain Joe said that we would move on in search for other whales as once they sound whales can stay down for up to an hour. Because the babies cannot stay submerged as long, the whales could be visible again within 15 minutes. Just about the time we were turning to leave, the mother, baby and an additional whale breached again, all at the same time.

Three Whales Breaching - Blue Dolphin

So, we decided to hang around that spot for a few more minutes. The whales continued to entertain us for quite some time. Each time there was a lull of a few minutes the captain would start to move on and up would pop another whale.

Soon there were another whale or two breaching on the other side of us. Pupus (appetizers) were served in the cabin below during all of this excitement. Since no one wanted to take their eyes off of the water, the two crew members were running small plates of the quite tasty food to passengers as requested. They were also keeping everyone well supplied with liquid refreshments of choice.

Here is where my report gets a little disappointing. In spite of whale breaching continuing, my camera speed was not fast enough to catch any of them. By the time I turned the direction of the next sighting and clicked a shot, it was over.

So, here is a series of shots of the tiny splash at the end of several breaches. Each shot is of course a separate sighting and I did not by any means snap all of them. In fact, during the last hour, the realization that I was not going to get a good shot, left me with camera off and just enjoying the show.

And yet another Whale breaching - Blue Dolphin
Another Whale Breach
This one you can at least see the tail!
Still another Breach Blue Dolphin Whale Watching

There are some great shots of whales breaching taken on other Blue Dolphin tours on their web site.

We changed location a few times as other whales were spotted. However, we were getting so much action where we were that the harbor was never completely out of sight. Every time our captain would decide to move on, the whales would once again appear. At some point he did sail on for about five to ten minutes to a different group of whales.

With all that was going on in the water the time sped by and soon Captain Joe announced he was turning the boat around to sail towards the sunset. About that time we were surrounded by spinner dolphins.

Spinner Dolphins just below the surface
Spinner Dolphins just below the surface

The water looked as if it was on a slow simmer with the number of dolphins just below the surface keeping the water churning. These small dolphins were also jumping and spinning alongside of us, sometimes at the same time a whale was breaching a little further in the distance.

More Spinner Dolphins
So many spinner dolphins - whale watching Kauai
Spinner Dolphins swimming
Spinner Dolphins all around

As the sun was setting Captain Joe turned away from the whale and dolphin action to face the horizon. The crew handed out champagne for us to toast the sunset and the magic flash of green light as the sun disappeared. With that, we headed back to the harbor, which was less than a ten minute ride away.

We toast the setting sun - whale watching

I have mixed feelings about ever going on another whale watching cruise. The amazing day made we want to experience it many times again. At the same time, I had such an ideal day with perfect weather (neither too hot nor too cold), well over 20 breaches (at some point I stopped counting!), and spinner dolphins surrounding us, all narrated by an informative and entertaining captain, that I can’t imagine having a better experience.

Sunset Blue Dolphin Whale Watching Tour

Based on my whale watching tour, I am sure that I will book another trip with Blue Dolphin in the future, whether for whale watching or just observing the spectacular Na Pali coast which is the destination of their longer cruises.

Blue Dolphin offers many different catamaran tours all year. However, their whale watching tours are only available December through March. Check their website for current prices, keeping in mind that they offer a 10% discount for advance purchase.

Kathy Stafford
Kathy Stafford

Kathy Stafford is a writer, publisher and editor. She was a contributing author to "Sasha Cohen Fire on Ice". She has been a contributing editor to several publications including, "Discover Balboa Park: A Complete Guide". Kathy was publisher and editor of "Skating Sketches", reporting on figure skating worldwide, for over ten years. She was a credentialed journalist as a figure skating specialist for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. She has covered international skating events in Switzerland, France, Finland, England, Canada and the United States with published articles in Canada, Japan, and the United States. Although she never accepted an assignment, she was on the list of approved Lonely Planet authors for three years. She is currently combining her love of travel, and her background as a writer and editor, as a publisher and author of travel related journalism. In addition, she blogs about her search for her family roots at www.cherokeerootsblog.com.

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