Maui Arts & Entertainment

A Whale of a Time

January 19, 2011, 5:10 PM HST
* Updated January 29, 2:27 AM
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By Maesyn

Maui is a speck of land in the middle of a vast sea.

Standing on her shores, we are surrounded on all sides by a watery wilderness. Much of what lies beneath the surface remains a mystery, but for the rare circumstance where the creatures who inhabitat the depths of the ocean rise to meet us.

‘Tis the season of the humpback whale here in Maui. These enormous sea creatures can currently be found breaching with their newborn babies all around our mid-Pacific stopping point on the winter route of their migration between the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska.


Tourists and locals alike are flocking to the boats. Everyone wants to get out on the water to witness the newly birthed calves as they frolic in the clear waters between the islands. Whaleboat cruises leave from all around the island. If you’re lucky, you may find a friend with a boat to take you out on the water to get even more up-close and personal with the whales. (If you’re even luckier, you have your own boat!)


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Each fall, it is estimated that over 6,000 humpback whales depart from the Gulf of Alaska and head to warmer waters where they give birth each winter. 60% of them head towards Hawaii’s tropical bathwater. The rest go to coastal islands around Japan and Baja, Mexico.

The 3,500 mile trip from Alaska to Hawaii takes four to eight weeks. In a staggered migration pattern, the young whales lead the way, followed by adult males, adult females, and last, the pregnant females.


Each summer, the whales feast on the plankton and krill-rich waters in Alaska, and put on the blubber that will last them through the winter season. Once in Hawaii, the whales do not eat. The pregnant females, once having given birth, lose up to a third of their body mass while nursing their young. They must then return to Alaska to replenish their stored nutritional reserves.

Standard fare for an adult humpback is a ton of food per day.

An endangered species, with 10,000 estimated worldwide, the humpback whale is known to have a global communication system, with which they can communicate with whales at great distances across the ocean and around the world. They sing underwater, and their vibration is tangible when you are in their presence.

On your whaleboat journey you will likely be offered an opportunity to listen to a microphone underneath the water, where you will hear the whales all around you singing together.

The whale’s song has a very complex structure, similar to a classical music piece. It can be broken down into units, phrases and themes, which make up the entire song.

One of the most amazing things about the whale choir is that their sonic frequencies seem to transmit thousands of miles across the ocean floor. Every day, all of the male humpbacks in Hawaii sing the exact same song with the same melodic evolutions. It has been documented that these songs are sung simultaneously and grow spontaneously, by the whales in Baja, Japan and Hawaii.

The song’s patterns change and progress as the season passes, and year by year. No two songs ever repeat. The whale’s intelligence and memory are clearly intricate and highly attuned to track and repeat these complex patterns which evolve over time.

Here are some options as you search for your dream whale watching experience this season.

The Lahaina Cruise Company offers whale tours on their 70 foot Catamaran. They feature a naturalist on board who narrates the journey, interactively answering all manner of questions about whale behavior and background.

Another option is the Maui Princess Whalewatch company. With a guarantee that you will see whales (or get a free second trip), the Maui Princess departs from Lahaina and offers large boats with enclosed upper decks for those travelers who like to stay warm and dry. In addition to a professional narration, they feature an underwater Whale-Cam (Video Camera) and hydrophone (underwater microphone) that will allow you to hear the amazing whale song in all its glory.

Trilogy Boat Tours offers a free second trip if you don’t see a whale on your first journey. Trilogy’s wide catamarans only carry 35-40 guests, to ensure that everyone has a front row seat for their whale watching experience. They have naturalists on board to answer all of your questions.

Perhaps the most exciting of the potential whale encounter is offered by Maui Eco Tours. Kayak alongside whales in the middle of the ocean, on this wildly popular adventure. Suitable only for adults, adventurers are provided with snorkel gear, and end up underwater, up close and personal with all kinds of marine wildlife. One of Maui Eco Tour’s full time guides takes guests step by step through the journey. For only $69 you can float alongside the whales and spare the environment while you’re at it!

Or, the ever popular, and by far the coolest option: find someone who has their own private boat, and get out on the water with your friends. If you do this, you can jump in the water and dive down a few feet and hear the purring and cooing of the whale song, firsthand. Just don’t get caught by the coastguard if there is marine life nearby. Swimming in the water too close to whales can get you killed, and authorities can give you  a $20,000 fine and two year in jail penalty.

May your heart melt in the vibrational experience of a whale encounter.

* If you’d like to suggest an event or artist for Maui Now to profile in the Arts & Entertainment section, please email [email protected]

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