By Wendy Osher
The first whale sighting off Maui for the 2013 season was reported on Saturday morning, about two miles from Molokini.
The whale was spotted by passengers and crew aboard the Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Voyager vessel at around 7:36 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.
The PWF claims it is the first verified humpback whale sighting of the season off Maui, but at least one other boat company reported a sighting this week to the Maui Now newsroom.
Melissa Glennon with Kai Kanani Sailing Charters reported a sighting during a sunset sail on Friday, Oct. 4, just off of Little Beach in the Puʻu Olaʻi area of Mākena.
PWF Executive Director Greg Kaufman, said this year’s sightings are right on schedule. “Last year’s first sighting took place on October 15 and coincidentally was also by Ocean Voyager during a Molokini snorkel cruise,” said Kaufman in an agency press release.
The humpback spotted on Saturday was reported by Ocean Voyager Captain Gabriel Wilson, who said the whale was headed north in the direction of Mā’alaea Bay.
“We got about 300 yards from the whale’s location and watched it blow a few times, and then do a fluke up dive,” said Captain Wilson.
According to Kaufman the whales traditionally appear off Maui’s coasts in autumn, with their numbers increasing through November and December.
The wintering whales mate and give birth to their young while in Hawaiʻi, before returning to the north for their summer feeding, according to the PWF.
The PWF estimates that at least 12,000 humpback whales are believed to migrate to Hawaiʻi each winter.
The Pacific Whale Foundation is among the companies that offer early season whalewatches with guaranteed sightings starting Nov. 4, according to the PWF.
If whales are not sighted during the guaranteed dates, whale watchers aboard the PWF excursion get a “Just a Fluke” coupon to go again free, anytime within one year, the company said.
“We added the guarantee because we want our early season whalewatchers to have the best shot at seeing whales,” said Kaufman.
The return of the whales is celebrated each year with the Annual Maui Whale Festival, which will be held in February, 2014.
The event features free talks, special cruises, an annual Parade of Whales and Whale Day celebration on February 15, 2014, and other whale related festivities.