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Visiting Maui: Hunting for Whales With a Camera

Visiting Hawaiian Islands and the South Pacific, Part 8

By Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: May 5, 2014

Visiting Maui: Hunting for Whales With a Camera

We arrived in its quaint port village of Lahaina on the island of Maui. Today, we visited the last of the four Hawaiian islands on our cruise schedule. In the afternoon we will set sail for the South Pacific.

Some weeks prior to starting this cruise, we did on-line research on what ocean activities were available at this popular port. We made on-line reservations to go on a whale watching boat tour. We selected the raft tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation organization. They offered tours on a large two level passenger ship or on a small inflatable craft. We decided to go on the smaller craft.

We tendered from our cruise ship to the port (tendering is where the cruise ship cannot approach the dock area because the harbor is not deep enough and thus they provide small crafts that takes you to shore and back). There is no fee to tender.

Lahaina is a small port town that was once a stopping port for whaling ships in the 1800 and 1900s. Now it's a tourist site offering a wide range of aquatic activities (snorkeling, diving, sport fishing and whale watching).

As I highlighted, we had the choice of going whale watching on a ship for about 150 persons or a small zodiac craft that carried 30 passengers. We were looking forward to going on the smaller craft. It could move and change directions faster as we searched and followed the whales. It took us a short while to find several humpback whales. April is at the end of the season where they are here to mate and have their calves.

The majority of them had left to begin their 3,000 mile migration back to Alaska, where they will feed once again. These small crafts do not get very close to them, but yet they do get near enough to appreciate their massive size and graceful movements. The boats get approximately 10 car length to them. At times we were going parallel to them until they dived under. You see, their massive tails come out as they gracefully go under. They can remain underwater for 45-minutes.

We had a unique and memorable experience on this boat expedition. We were following three whales that were all on the port side of the boat. We could see them slowing down and began to move back and forth right under the surface. The water here is clear and you could see them twisting and turning about close to the surface. We were anxiously waiting for at least one of them to come up for air. We all thought we could see one that was about to come to the surface. All of the sudden one did surfaced very close by but it was immediately behind us. We heard the sudden loud spout sound behind us.

The unexpected loud exhale and its breath made some of us jump and our faces showed that we had been caught completely by surprise.

Several of the passengers plus Kimberly, our tour lecturer, let out a short yell. I wondered if that whale came up behind us on purpose. As soon as we turned around to see it, the whale had already gone under and swam gracefully under the craft. It did not surface again. Given the size of the whale, if it had bumped the boat we were on, we would have experienced a major jolt and it would have shaken and thrown many of us off our feet and seats. It was an exhilarating and exciting experience to see them move gently under us and into the depth of these clear emerald waters.

Before departing to return to the port the crew put into the water a hydra-phone and listened to the whales making sounds. It does sound like they are singing. I have heard the whale songs in movies and television programs but, it's quite moving to hear them live.

This adventure reminds us of the tremendous responsibility we all share for the protection of our oceans and its creatures. The whales are at the mercy of their cousins the killer whales, exhaustion, illnesses, fishing nets, whalers, ocean currents and age. Yet pollution of our coastal and deep waters threatens them and us. Our very existence is dependent on our oceans. We are also responsible to insure the preservation of these enormous exquisite mammals.

I want to return to this island specifically when the number of humpback whales are at its peak. It coincides with the time when the gray whales are also concentrated and breeding in the Baja Peninsula and the Gulf of Cortez in Mexico. When we return we will attempt to go out on a much smaller craft. A craft for 6-8 persons would be better. Maneuverability would be increased and one might even get closer. As long as we are not caught under a whale that decided to leap out of the water, we will be fine.

We returned to port feeling excited at our shared experience and of course we visited a local pub to cool off and share other whale watching and ocean exploration experiences. As we talked about past adventures, my focus started to drift and shift toward visiting the upcoming islands in the Polynesia area. I am scheduled to do multiple deep scuba dives in corral areas where one commonly finds blacktip and lemon sharks. I am hoping to also see manta rays, turtles and giant clams.

About Armando F Sanchez, Contributing Writer:
Armando F Sanchez is an author and CEO of Armando F Sanchez Production. His organization produces global digital media programming.
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