Maui Whale Watch Guide – Why Humpbacks Breach

When you join us on a whale watch tour on Maui, breaching is one of the common actions you’re likely to see. Breaching is when a whale throws its entire body out of the water. It’s an awesome to sight to witness, to be sure. But why do humpback whales breach?

Until recently, most whale experts believed there wasn’t one reason. It’s kind of like asking, why do humans run? We run for play, exercise, to escape danger, etc. Among the reasons scientists believed whales breached were for communication, a way to warn others of impending danger, as a way to stun prey, and as a sort of mating ritual competition between males.

However, in November, 2016, an article titled “Evidence for the functions of surface-active behaviors in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)” was published in the Marine Mammal Science journal. The authors of the study concluded, with some certainty, the main reason for breaching (and tail/pectoral slapping) is communication.

Simply put in human terms, an acoustic sound like a drum travels further than the voice, which is why cultures once beat on drums to communicate from village to village. So while whales can sing beautifully, in order to contact other whales further away, they need to beat on the water to get the message out.

As for the other reasons whales breach, while those listed above may be partially true, it never fully made sense to scientists why whales breached in Hawaii. While the humpbacks do mate here, they don’t eat. That’s right, they fast the entire time they’re in Hawaii. They also don’t have any natural predators here. So breaching to stun their prey or warn of danger seems dubious, at best. Especially when you consider how much energy a whale expends to throw 30 tons of body out of the water while they are fasting.

So next time you see a humpback whale leaping out of the ocean or slapping its fins, it isn’t just for show. They’re probably communicating with other whales miles away.

Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

Maui Whale Watch Guide – Humpback Migration

Every winter, the thousands of  humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii are a source of wonder and interest among both island visitors and residents. For those who keep an eye on the blue horizon, the whales can put on quite a show with their acrobatic antics. Their great size and charismatic behavior are just a couple of reasons why our Maui whale watch tours are so popular. Although there are still some mysteries remaining as to the lives they lead below the waves, scientists have discovered many fascinating things about our humpback neighbors.

Humpbacks are found throughout the world’s oceans, although their numbers dipped dangerously low as a result of the whaling that started in the 1800’s. It’s estimated that as few as 1,000 were left in 1965. Now, there are an estimated 23,000 north pacific humpbacks alone. Of this number, about 60%, or 12,000 – 14,000, migrate to Hawaii.

An interesting fact about the north pacific humpbacks are the three somewhat distinct populations they form. The eastern stock migrate between Northern California in summer and Mexico in winter. The western stock summers in the Aleutian Islands and moves on to the islands south of Japan in winter. The central stock can be found here in Hawaii in the winter after spending their summers in southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska. The whales aren’t too strict about their migrations though, as some mixing on the breeding grounds has been observed in each of the three groups, which probably goes a long way to keeping the gene pool nice and diverse.

Hawaii’s waters provide such an important habitat for these whales that Congress designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, where the whales would be protected as an endangered species by both federal and state law. Luckily for us, one of the two most popular places for whales to congregate is in the waters of Maui County, meaning the area between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kaho’olawe. The other popular spot for the whales is to the southwest of Molokai. As their numbers continue to strengthen, they have made progress spreading out toward the other Hawaiian islands.

Our whales from Alaska leave their feeding grounds in the fall and swim almost non-stop until reaching their breeding grounds in Hawaii, which can take between 6-8 weeks. At about 3,000 miles each way, it’s one of the longest mammal migrations, which is why it takes them so long despite their epic size.

Marine scientists have made some interesting discoveries about Hawaii’s arriving whales. Namely, who arrives when. Nursing mothers arrive around mid-November, generally being the first on the scene. The next to arrive are juveniles and newly weaned yearlings, followed by a surge of adult males and females. The last to arrive are pregnant females, who feed in Alaska as long as possible before beginning their migration.

If you’d like to observe these awe-inspiring giants in their natural habitat, you can book your tour at our Maui whale watch tour page. If you need our assistance, you’ll find our contact information at the bottom of the page. Mahalo!

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

A Visual Guide To Common Humpback Whale Behavior

There is nothing more exciting than seeing a 30-ton whale throwing itself out of the ocean like a spinner dolphin on one of our whale watches. Luckily for you, whales have more than just one trick up their fins! Here is a visual guide to seven common humpback whale actions you may see here in Hawaii.

Breach
When you head out on a whale watch, this is the action you most want to see. A breach occurs when a humpback launches itself fully out of the ocean. Here is an explanation for why humpback whales breach.

Tail Slap
We love the tail slap, also known as lobtailing. A tail slap is, literally, when the humpback slaps the water with its tail in a straight up and down motion. It seems easy enough, but to do it, the whale needs to lift its rear out of the water in order to create the force needed to slap its tail down. This is different than the tail throw…

Tail Throw
Also known as a peduncle throw, you don’t often see these on Maui, but when you do, they’re spectacular. A tail throw occurs when a whale turns to its side and violently lifts its tail out of the water and slaps it down in a sideways action. Since it’s believed tail throws primarily occur during mating, this action is very rare here in Hawaii.

Pec Slap
A pec slap occurs when a whale raises its pectoral fins (side fins) vertically, then slaps it down into the water. We like to think of pec slaps as a whale’s way of waving “hello.” We would be wrong, but it’s fun to dream!

Chin Slap
Nobody likes to be slapped in the face, but humpbacks do enjoy raising their heads out of the water, then slapping them down. It takes a great amount of strength to raise the upper half of their bodies out of the water and slap them down.

Spyhopping
Humpbacks do this to look out over the horizon. Kind of like gophers peeking their heads out of their holes, humpbacks lift their heads out of the water and look around. If you see a humpback doing this, it’s probably looking right back at you!

Blowing
“Thar she blows!” The famous pirate cry is the most recognizable and common action you’ll see on a Maui whale watch. What you may not know, however, is that humpbacks do not blow water out of their blowholes. Instead, they are blowing out the hot air and mucus that collects in their lungs. When this warm mixture hits the cooler outside air the condensation it creates looks like a spigot of water.

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well, you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

Whale Watching on Maui Q & A

When is whale watching season on Maui?
Unofficially, whale watching season runs from December 1 – April 30. But the whales came early this year and we’re already running Whale Watch tours!

Where is the best place to see the whales?
Well, we may be a teeny bit biased, but the best place to see the whales is from one of our whale tour boats. We will get you as close to the whales as is safely possible – safe for the whales and you, that is, on the largest and most stable boats in Maui.

What types of whales come through Hawaii?
North Pacific Humpback Whales

What do they look like?
They are primarily grey, with some areas of white. Oh, and they’re big. BIG. The North Pacific Humpbacks are the fifth largest whale species on the planet and can grow to 60-feet long and weigh between 25 – 40 tons.

Why do they come to Hawaii?
Good question. They come to mate, give birth and nurture their calves. Hawaii is the only state in the union where they will mate. It’s believed the humpbacks are drawn to Hawaii for its warm waters, underwater visibility, varying ocean depths and lack of natural predators.

How far do they travel?
They swim, pretty much non-stop, about 3,500 miles from Alaska. The journey generally takes 4-to-6 weeks.

Do they arrive in any particular order?
They do! Normally the first to arrive are the mother whales who are nursing their calves. Next up is the juveniles, then the adult males, followed by adult females. The last to arrive are the pregnant females. The pregnant whales bring up the rear because they feed and nourish themselves until the very last minute up in Alaska.

Once they get to Hawaii, where do they go?
They basically go to two different areas. A four-island cluster comprised of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kaho’olawe make up the first area. The other area, called the Penguin Band, is a section of shallow water about 25 miles southwest of Molokai. That said, whales have been spotted by residents and visitors on the Big Island, Oahu and Kauai.

How many whales are there?
In 1993, there were an estimated 6,000 humpback whales in the North Pacific Ocean. Of those, about 4,000 came through Hawai’i. Since the signing of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which banned commercial whaling, that number has increased. Scientists estimate there are now roughly 23,000 north pacific humpback whales, with about 12,000 – 14,000 of those coming through Hawaii each year.

How long do Northern Pacific Humpback Whales live?
They live about 50 years, but there have been accounts of some living much longer.

What do they eat?
They survive mainly on small fish, plankton and tiny crustaceans. What’s interesting is they never eat in Hawaii’s waters. They spend all summer eating in Alaska, then store up the food as blubber, which they then use to fuel their winter trips to Hawaii.

How long can the whales stay underwater?
While adults can stay underwater for up to 45 minutes, they tend to come up for air every 10-15 minutes. The calves come up about every 5 minutes.

Why do they jump out of the water?
Commonly called breaching, a study published in January, 2017 showed that humpbacks are more likely to breach when they are far apart (2.5 miles or more,) while tail or fin slapping occurs more frequently when they are together. This suggests that the humpbacks breach for long-range communication versus simply water slaps when they are near other whales.

Is there a Hawaiian name for humpback whales?
Yes, the Hawaiian name is kohola

I want to see whales every day I’m on Maui! Where’s the best place to see them from shore?
Honestly, you should be able to spot them from pretty much every beach on the south (Kihei/Wailea) and west (Lahaina/Ka’anapali) shores. You can also see them on the north shore (Paia/Ho’okipa). The best place, unfortunately, is probably on Highway 30 connecting Ma’alaea and Lahaina. If you see one while driving, remain calm and try not to accelerate into the driver in front you who just slowed to take a better look!

To book a whale watch tour with us, go here. If the boat goes out and no whales are seen, you will receive complimentary tickets for another trip.

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

Welcome Back The Whales!

After spending the summer consuming roughly 5,000 pounds of food in Alaska, the humpback whales are completing their arduous 3,000 mile journey to Hawaii. How lucky we are!

Though we witness these 30-ton beauties every winter, the sight of a humpback whale breaching is ALWAYS exciting. Even folks who have lived here for 80 years still get a thrill from the whales. We love the whales and we never take them for granted.

Recent reports say the number of humpback whales arriving in Hawaii are shrinking and that’s a definite concern. Last year, just 529 whales were counted, down from 984 in 2016. But, the total number of whales that arrive in Hawaii, according to NOAA are still around 10,000, which means the whales are still in abundance in Maui’s waters. The discrepancy in the count numbers is due to that fact that most whales don’t venture into the waters near populated locales and the whale counts cited were taken by people standing on the shore.

To help celebrate the return of the whales to Hawaii, here are five interesting facts about the humpback whales’ migration from Alaska to Hawaii that you can share with friends and family…

  1. The humpback whales that come to Hawaii are from the North Pacific humpback whale family. There are three distinct groups of these humpbacks: the eastern stock from Northern California travel back-and-forth to Mexico, the western stock go between the Aleutian Islands and Japan, and the central stock migrate from Alaska to Hawaii. The 3,000 journey from Alaska to Hawaii is one of the longest mammal migrations in the world.
  2. Hawaii’s waters provide such an important habitat for these whales that Congress designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, where the whales would be protected as an endangered species by both federal and state law.
  3. One of the most popular places for whales to congregate is in the waters of Maui County, meaning the area between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kaho’olawe. It’s no mistake that this is exact area we take our passengers on our whale watches!
  4. Marine scientists have made an interesting discovery about the order of the whales’ arrival in Hawaii. Nursing mothers generally arrive first in early-to-mid November. The next to arrive are juveniles and newly weaned yearlings, followed by a surge of adult males and females. The last to arrive are pregnant females, who feed in Alaska as long as possible before beginning their migration.
  5. The whales do NOT feed while in Hawaii. They store up enough food in Alaska prior to their journey to last until they return to Alaska in the spring.

To book a whale watch adventure with Hawaii Ocean Project with guaranteed whale sightings**, head on over to our Whale Watch page.

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the Island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promocode VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

 

** If no whales are spotted on your adventure, you will receive a voucher to book another whale watch adventure.

The Magical Island of Lana’i: 10 Fun Facts

  1. At just over 140 square miles, Lana’i is the sixth largest island of the Hawaiian island chain. During the 2010 census, Lana’i’s counted just 3,102 residents. Nearly all reside in the former pineapple plantation town of Lana’i City.
  2. One legend says that Lana’i was once inhabited by man-eating spirits until a hooligan Maui prince, Kaulua’au, was sent to the island as punishment by his father for pulling up a bread tree. The king expected his son to die on the island. Instead, the prince flourished and drove the spirits away. As a reward, he was given control of the island.
  3. Where the name Lana’i came from is not known. In the past, the island was often referred to by the full name “Lānaʻi o Kauluaʻau”. In a nod to the Maui prince mentioned above, the translation is “day of the conquest of Kauluaʻau,” .
  4. The first inhabitants of Lana’i were thought to be from Maui and Molokai. They establishing fishing villages along the coastline, but were nearly all wiped out when King Kamehameha I united the eight Hawaiian islands with his very iron fist.
  5. In 1921, the first pineapple was planted on Lana’i. It took just a year for Charles Dole (Dole pineapple ring a bell?) bought the island for the purpose of growing pineapple. Lana’i soon acquired the nickname the Pineapple Island. By 1930, the tiny island was exporting over 65,000 tons of pineapple a year. The final harvest of pineapple on Lana’i occurred in 1992. People still refer to it as the Pineapple Island, though.
  6. Lana’i officially became a part of Maui County in 1959 when Hawaii was admitted into the United States.
  7. There are no traffic lights on Lana’i. Lana’i High and Elementary School, which educates children from kindergarten through 12th grade, is the only school on the island. There’s also just one hospital.
  8. Snorkeling around Lana’i is some of the best in the entire state of Hawaii. The most affordable way to snorkel Lana’i is to take boat tour from Lahaina. These tours on Hawaii Ocean Project include breakfast, lunch, unlimited drinks, gear and professional instruction and safety. (See below for a special offer!)
  9. Oracle (a software company) founder and billionaire Larry Ellison owns 98% of the island, while the state owns the other 2%. Ellison also owns nearly 1/3 of all the housing (the state owns the other 2/3) and pretty much every other business on the island, including two Four Seasons hotels. He also spent millions refurbishing the island’s lone movie theater and constructing a resort-style Olympic-sized public pool. He worked with the state to update the water filtration system in Lana’i City and built a domestic violence center for women.
  10. While snorkeling is the main attraction on Lana’i, the island has three golf courses, two affiliated with the two Four Seasons resorts and one a free, nine hole course. Bill Gates was married on one of the Four Seasons courses.

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the Island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promocode VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

10 Family Activities That Will Create a Lifetime of Memories

Maui is truly a fantastic destination for the entire family. Sure, it’s great for honeymooners or couples looking to escape day-to-day life, but with safe beaches, plenty of condos and resorts with full kitchens that cater to children and a family-friendly atmosphere in general, Maui truly is the best of the Hawaiian islands for families. But once you’re here, besides the beach and pool, what should you do with your kids? Here are our recommendations of the 10 best things to do with your family on Maui, listed alphabetically.

Bird Watching
Maui is home to many birds, some of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world. However, bird watching can be slow and probably boring for children. Luckily, on Maui, we have a few bird preserves and parks where spotting birds is simple. Here are two suggestions for spots that you’ll be guaranteed to quickly see (and photograph) Maui’s exotic birds.

  • Haleakala National Park
    Haleakala is one of the few places in the world you can find the state bird of Hawaii, the nene (Hawaiian goose). If you’re planning on heading up to the summit for sunrise, on your way back down, stop at Hosmer Grove, a preserve loaded with birds. Another option in the national park is the Waikamoi Preserve. However, to enter this preserve you need to be part of a guided tour.
  • Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
    Located in Kihei, this refuge features a boardwalk open seven days a week, that takes you through marshlands that are home to  species of birds, including the endangered ae‘o (Hawaiian stilt). Please note that the visitors center is not open on weekends. As an added bonus, from May – September, the endangered hawksbill turtle reside here along the shore.

Day Hike/Nature Walk
Nothing beats a day on the trails with the family. Hiking provides many opportunities to interact with nature and enjoy the beautiful weather of Maui. Luckily, Maui is loaded with hiking opportunities. Some, like the backtrails of Haleakala are for experts only. But Maui also provides outstanding trails for families. Here are four easy hikes near common tourist destinations.

  • Twin Falls (just outside of Paia on the Road to Hana)
    Twin Falls is one of the iconic waterfalls on Maui. It’s also one of the most accessible waterfalls. Located just outside of Paia, it makes a whole lot sense to wake up early and do the hike, then get lunch or gelato afterwards in Paia. Once you’ve parked your car at Twin Falls, getting to the waterfall is a short walk, less than a mile, along a well-maintained trail. Once at the falls, you can swim in the water, but the water gets deep quickly, so make sure you keep an eye on the kids.
  • Kapalua Beach Trail (Kapalua)
    Easy to navigate, the flat trail is part paved/part dirt and rock. You’ll be walking between two of Maui’s most popular beaches, Kapalua Beach and DT Fleming Beach. Along the way, you’ll have unencumbered, beautiful shoreline views. There are also small beaches that are virtually devoid of people, which is almost unheard on Maui. It’s appropriate for anyone who can walk 1.75 miles, or 3.5 if you plan on walking back. But really, you can turn around at point of the trail
  • Wailea Beach Path (Wailea)
    The path basically runs the length of Wailea’s gorgeous resorts. You’ll know you’ve reached the end when you run out of path. If you’re staying in one of the resorts along the shore, you can easily hop on the path from your hotel. If you’re seeking out the path by car, there are a few public beaches with parking along the path. The path itself is mostly flat and well kept. It affords some great views of the ocean and access to beaches. There are plenty of rest spots and food stands along the way, as well as the Shops at Wailea.
  • ‘Iao Valley State Monument (‘Iao Valley)
    This hike is really more of a nature walk and is accessible to just about everyone. There’s a nice path that takes you through the park and allows fantastic views of the ‘Iao Needle. As you stroll on the path, you’ll see plenty of native Hawaiian plants and flowers. For a slightly more difficult walk, you can climb the stairs to a lookout. This is very safe. The only difficulty lies in the amount of steps you need to climb.

Horseback Riding
It’s probably not the first thing you think of when planning a trip to Maui, but there are some outstanding horseback riding opportunities on the Valley Isle. Maui has a long history of ranching and some of the best rides on Maui are on working ranches. Other rides take you along coastal trails. Here is an article on our favorite horseback riding excursions on Maui if you’re interested in saddling up.

Luau
When you think “luau” you probably don’t think of kids. But you should! Most of the luaus on Maui have fire dances, which are mesmerizing for both parents and children. The food is also good, with most having children’s menus. Before you book your luau, though, you should double check the menus. We’ve found that the luau’s are also surprisingly fine for gluten-free and vegetarians. But the real reason luaus are good for kids is that they are quite educational. Over the course of the evening, you’ll learn the history of Hawaii and Polynesia through dance and story. Here are five favorite luaus on Maui and here’s another article if you’re interested on learning about the history of luaus on Maui.

Maui Ocean Center
Should the weather forecast look iffy, schedule the Maui Ocean Center for a rainy day. Nearly all of the activities are indoors, and oh what activities they are! The highlight of any trip to this aquarium is the stunning glass tunnel through the middle of a tank full of sharks and rays. It’s just beautiful. Maui Ocean Center is ultra-eco-friendly. They keep no mammals, nor do they serve drinks in plastic bottles or offer plastic straws (they use paper straws.) Overall, it’s a very impressive aquarium and was recently named as one 2018’s Top 10 Aquariums in the world by Trip Advisor.

Roller Skating
Take your kids roller skating at the Kalama Park roller rink. Every Wednesday from 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM and Friday and Saturday from 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Skating is free, but if you need to rent skates, they are available for just $5 a pair. FYI, this is not the free skate park, which is located near the rink. The skate park, for those who crave a little more adventure, is for skateboarders, roller skaters and scooter riders who prefer ramps and tubes.

Snorkel Cruise to Lanai
Definitely the highlight of any trip to Maui is a snorkel excursion to Lanai. The day starts with a continental breakfast featuring fresh fruit, pastries and a variety of juices. Throughout the trip, stay hydrated with all the soda, juice and water you desire. For lunch, we fire up the grill on the back of boat and barbecue burgers, hot dogs, chicken and veggie burgers. Salads, chips and cookies are also served. But, you don’t go on a snorkel food just for the food. We provide a full set of gear, floatie devices for those who need them and general lessons to get you started. We also send our crew into the water to keep an on everyone who enters the water. Note that snorkeling is actually optional. We have many riders who want to cruise without snorkeling. We believe in safety first!

Surf Lessons
Depending on the age of your kids, this can be a fun for the family. Generally speaking, you’ll find friendly, knowledgable instructors who will get both you and children up and riding waves. A morning of surfing creates memories to last a lifetime. It may even create a lifelong surfer, and just as importantly, your children will learn respect for the ocean. You can find surf lessons all over Maui.

Whale Watching
In season, December 1 – April 30, nothing beats a whale watching tour. Two hours on a nice boat, learning about whales and the ocean, while taking in gorgeous views of Maui and surrounding islands. Out of season, snorkel trips out to Lanai almost always take you through pods of active spinner dolphins. While dolphins aren’t as spectacular as giant whales, they are loads of fun and love to play next to the boat. Click here to learn more about our whale watch tours and our Lanai snorkel adventure.

Ziplining
Ziplining is a fun and exhilarating way to see Maui. You can find various zipline adventures all over the island. We recommend googling it. But, for this article, we’ll call out three that are located near visitor hotels and condos and that are family-friendly.

  • Lahaina Zipline Adventure Tour: Soar over the Maui Dragon Fruit Farm on Lahaina’s only zipline tour. Though only 450 ft. long, this zipline tour allows you to go up to four times! The minimum age is 5 years old, with a max weight limit of 250 pounds.
  • Maui Ziplining at Maui Tropical Plantation: With five zipline adventures, ranging from 300 – 900 feet, Maui Ziplining has something for everyone aged 5 and up. Must be between 45 and 250 pounds.
  • Skyline Eco-Adventures Ka’anapali: For ages 10 and up (minimum weight 80 pounds,) this tour encompasses either an 8-line or 11-line tour with views of the Pacific Ocean and takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours.

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the Island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promocode VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

 

Where are the Humpback Whales?

Over the past three years, it appears the number of humpback whales coming to Hawaii for the winter are declining. This finding is based not only on hard counts of the whales, but also on the diminishing number of males that have been recorded singing. Finally, and perhaps most troubling, there have been fewer sightings of mother-calf pairs.

Rachel Cartwright, a whale researcher with the Keiki Kohola Project, says the number of mother-calf pairs peaked in the 2013-14 whale season (whale season being December – May). Since then, the number of sightings of the pairs has dropped about 80%.

If you’re coming to Maui and are worried there may not be any whales this winter, fear not! “They’re not all gone,” Ed Lyman, with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “We are seeing indications of fewer whales near the islands where our effort is … There are still plenty of whales out there.”

How many? Here on Maui, the Great Whale Count has been using volunteers to count whales from Maui’s shores for 30 years. In February, 2018, over 100 volunteers counted 529 humpback whales. That’s a good number, but down significantly (46%) from 2017 when 984 whales were counted. Let’s take a quick look at the whale numbers, as counted by the Great Whale Count over the past five years:

2018: 529
2017: 984
2016: 732 (an El Nino year that researchers believe stymied whales)
2015: 1488
2014: 1331

Researchers concerned about the shrinking whale counts have advanced three reasons why they could be declining. Let’s explore them.

The first theory is that the whales are not getting sufficient nutrients over the summer in Alaska. In Alaska, the whales feed on small fish and krill. If the whales’ prey are no longer abundant in Alaska, the whales may be having to search elsewhere for food and this could potentially shift their migration pattern. At the same time, if the whales can’t digest enough food to power the 3,000 mile journey Hawaii, then they obviously won’t reach us. At this point, we should remind you the humpbacks do NOT feed while in Hawaii. They need to consume enough in Alaska to support themselves throughout the year. Surveys have shown the whales in both Alaska and Hawaii are thinner than they have been in past years.

The second theory is that the number of whales isn’t actually declining, rather they simply staying further offshore and thus aren’t being counted or heard.

The third theory, which is similar to both of the others, is there is a finite number of resources to sustain the whales. It’s possible the number of whales the Hawaiian islands can support has reached its limit and the whales are now searching out other locations in the Pacific.

Last year, the first whales were spotted off of Maui in late October, which is the earliest watchers can remember the whales arriving. By mid-April, the whales were nearly all gone. Where the season is traditionally from December to May, if the “peak season” for whales has shifted from February to earlier in the calendar, say, December, then that could be another explanation for the declining February whale counts.

We keep a close eye out our for whales. When we start spotting them from our Lanai Snorkel and Dolphin Tour, we alert local researchers and once we see them in abundance we launch our Whale Watch tours. We hope to see you and the whales soon!

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the Island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promocode VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

10 Reasons to Take a Spectacular Snorkel Cruise to Lanai

Snorkeling on Maui is great. Whether it’s from a boat or from the beach, there are numerous places here to see fish, turtles, rays and even sharks (the good kind that don’t bite!) If you’re looking for great places to snorkel, check out our article “Best Places to Snorkel on Maui”.

But for this article, we’re going to focus on why snorkeling from a boat on our Lanai Snorkel and Dolphin Tour is so much fun and the highlight of every vacation to Maui. There are definite advantages to snorkeling from a boat. But before we get into it, we should point out some of the reasons you may just want to snorkel from the beach. First, if you’re staying near the beach, it’s easy to simply enter the water with your gear and start snorkeling. Another good thing about snorkeling from the beach is that it’s free… if you don’t need to rent gear. Finally, by snorkeling from the beach, you’re on your own time schedule. Of course, if you do go on our Lanai snorkel tour and you get bitten by the snorkel bug, you can rent gear and snorkel from shore during the rest of your vacation!

OK, those are three good reasons to snorkel from shore. Here are 10 reasons why snorkeling from our 70-foot, double-deck catamaran, the Kaulana of Maui, is even better than snorkeling from the beach.

  1. When you head out on our chartered snorkel tour, you will be outfitted with all the gear: mask, snorkel, fins, floaty-device (if needed) and you will receive professional training, again, if needed. We also have wet suits available for rent if you get cold in the ocean. Safety is our first priority. While you’re in the water, know that you’re being watched by multiple sets of eyes. If we see you drifting into “danger” zones, we’ll turn you around.
  2. Once on the boat headed to Lanai, it’s not unusual, in fact it’s probable, that you will see dolphins! Dolphins are rarely (if ever) spotted from shore. You will not snorkel with the dolphins (we are an eco-minded company that doesn’t believe human interaction is healthy for dolphins), but they often swim right up to the boat and they love to frolic in the wake. Spinner dolphins are among the most athletic mammals alive and watching then leap is a true treasure. (To learn more about them, check out our 10 Fun Facts about Spinner Dolphins article). During whale season, heading out on a snorkel excursion is often like a whale watch tour, with the added bonus of meals and snorkeling!
  3. Our boat captains, with their years of experience, will take you to two locations. The chosen locations are based on daily conditions, so we don’t know where we’re going until we survey the ocean. In this way, you’ll be assured of always snorkeling in the best conditions.
  4. You will not only learn about the snorkel locations, our boat captains and crew will also tell you about the surrounding area and point out cool sites like “Shark Rock” and “Sweetheart Rock” (pictured above) off of the island of Lanai.
  5. From a boat, because you are entering the ocean to snorkel at a deeper point, the water is far more clear than near the shore. One big cause of the cloudy sediment near the shore is the waves lapping the sand. Maui’s strong winds also stir up the sand near the shore. In deeper waters, this is rarely an issue. One of the biggest reasons for cloudy water is actually snorkelers themselves kicking up sediment while swimming. Because the water where we take you is deeper, this usually isn’t a problem.
  6. A different variety of fish can be seen when you’re further off-shore. Plus, the further away from shore, the bigger the fish tend to be.
  7. If someone in your group is not able or willing to go into the water, they are still welcome to ride on the boat. Nor are riders expected to snorkel at both locations. For some people, 30 to 60 minutes in the water is enough. But just experiencing Maui’s oceans by boat is always a vacation highlight.
  8. Dehydration while snorkeling can be an issue. But with unlimited water, soda and juice available for the entire trip, you will never need to fear dehydration. We also serve a continental breakfast featuring fresh fruit, muffins, danish and more. For lunch we fire up the barbecue on the back of the boat and prepare, burgers, veggie burgers, grilled chicken, hot dogs, salad and cookies. You can also snack on chips throughout the duration of the tour.
  9. While most people like to ride on the upper deck, we also have a below deck area to escape the sun.
  10. Water slide! Once we’re anchored for snorkeling, if you prefer a little more action, try our slide. It’s about a 20 foot drop from the top of the slide to the water. Some people, especially kids, will ride the slide over and over.

Those are 10 reasons why we think you should book a snorkel tour with us. By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the Island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promocode VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.