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.

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.

What Hawaii’s Sunscreen Ban Means for You

On July 1, 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the country to ban certain chemicals found in a majority of the sunscreens available to the public. Though the ban does not go into effect until January 1, 2021, here is a brief explanation for why the ban is being put in place and why you should consider switching to reef safe sunblocks prior to 2021.

First, it’s important to understand Hawaii did not ban sunscreen, as a whole. What is banned is sunscreens using the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Many researchers believe these two chemicals lead to coral bleaching and ocean acidification.


Why Hurricanes Rarely Hit Hawaii

Hurricane season in Hawaii usually falls between the months of June and November. However, as exemplified by Hurricane Lane, hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, rarely strike the Hawaiian islands directly. In fact, in nearly 150 years, only three hurricanes have reached landfall in Hawaii. The most recent was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which devastated Kauai, caused $1.8 billion in damages and killed six people. Prior to that only two other hurricanes had reached landfall in Hawaii. Hurricane Dot arrived in 1959 and an unnamed storm occurred in 1871. According to the NOAA historical hurricane database, from 1950 – 2017, only 14 hurricanes have ever passed within 200 miles of Hawaii.


Fishing on Maui: HOP to it

Some people come to Maui for the beach, others for the hiking, most for relaxation. But if you’re coming to Maui and want to try your hand at fishing, there are some things you need to know. In this article, we’ll talk about regulations, where you might want to fish and finally, what you may be catching. Please note, this article is by no means comprehensive. Rather, it’s a place for you to begin your research. Let’s dive in…


Five Endangered Species on Maui

Hawaii is often called “the extinction capital of the world.” Obviously, this is not a good thing. Species are dying out at an alarming rate. Sadly, this is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 7th century, when the Polynesians first arrived, they brought with them pigs, chickens, dogs and plants that endangered endemic plants and wildlife. The 18th century was just as catastrophic for two reasons: the natives began clearcutting forests and the arrival of the Europeans. The 20th century saw large population growth for Hawaii and the tourism industry boomed. Today, though Hawaii only makes up .25% of the United States land mass, it holds 25% of the country’s endangered species. Here are five endangered species (plus a new listing) you can currently find on Maui.


Five Things You Can Do to Help Maui’s Environment

When you live on or visit Maui, the first to thing to remember is that Maui is a small island in the middle of a large ocean. When you look around, one question that should come to mind is “where does all the garbage go?” The answer is landfills. At some point, there’s going to be no more land to fill. As for the ocean, many of us live and visit here because of the clean beaches and ocean. But if the ocean becomes overly polluted and no longer supports the corals and wildlife, what happens then? When you’re on Maui (or the other Islands, for that matter) there are things you can do to help us sustain our beautiful island. Here are five simple things you can do to keep Maui Maui.

Use Sunblock, Not Sunscreen
This one is not obvious or known to a lot people, but most sunscreens sold are devastating to coral reefs. Any sunscreen with the active ingredients oxybenzone and/or octinoxate contribute to coral bleaching, which in essence, kills coral. While these ingredients are in a majority of the sunscreens available in stores, there are reef friendly sunblocks that primarily use zinc oxide. The big difference between the products is that a zinc oxide-based sunblock literally blocks all UV rays from reaching your skin, whereas oxybenzone sunscreens allows some unharmful rays in. Many people find sunblock less convenient than sunscreen (you’ve seen people that look like ghosts on beaches), but in the end, they cause far less damage to the environment. On Maui, you can find reef friendly sunblocks at most surf shops and natural food stores. Even some of the larger stores are now carrying it.

Ah, plastic straws. Pretty much everywhere you go, you’re bound to be served drinks with plastic straws. In the United States alone, over 500,000,000 million (half a billion!) plastic straws are used a day. The city of Seattle recently banned the use of plastic straws in restaurants and bars. While we would love to see Maui enact the same law, things don’t move so quick here. Instead, you can do your part by simply declining a straw when offered. When you think about it, you’ll use your straw for 30 minutes, but it will last in the environment for hundreds of years.

Water bottles
This one is a bit tricky because depending on where you are on the island, the tap water can either taste fine or it can be a little, uh, not so fine. That said, most of the grocery stores have filtered water dispensers. If you start your vacation with a couple of large jugs of water, you can use those to fill your own water bottles, rather than using plastic bottles that end up in landfills.

We’re sad to say, Maui is way behind the times when it comes to composting and recycling. There’s no county-run composting program and the recycling program is barely adequate. But don’t let that stop you from separating from your recyclables and garbage. There are recycle centers all over island. When you head out, save a little time to drop off your recyclables. You may make enough on your bottles and cans to afford a latte at the airport.

Pick-Up Trash
For the most part, Maui is fairly free of loose garbage. The beaches are clean and most of the sidewalks are also debris free. This doesn’t happen by magic. Most visitors and locals are conscious about picking up after themselves. But for every person who has no problem leaving behind trash, there’s an equal or greater number of people who when they see garbage, pick it up.

Here on Maui we’re lucky to have so many visitors who respect the land and the environment. We seem to get a different type of visitor than most tourist locales, even Oahu. Thank you so much!

Do you have any tips for locals and visitors of Maui to keep our island clean? Please tell us in the comments below.

A Guide to Understanding Maui’s Weather

Depending on where you are on Maui, the weather conditions can be very different. It can be snowing in one area (OK, the summit of Haleakala, specifically) and 85 and sunny on the beach. That’s an extreme example. Less extreme is it can be pouring down rain near the airport, but 15 miles away at the same elevation in Kihei it can be blue skies and sunny. Why? Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out Maui’s wacky weather patterns.

First, a quick primer. Maui is generally broken down into four regions, central, leeward, windward and upcountry. The reason for the wild weather swings is due to a few factors:

  1. Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. These mountains keep rain locked on one side of the mountain. For example, the east side of the West Maui Mountains will receive 400 inches of rain a year. But the west side of the mountains (Lahaina) will receive around a foot of rain a year.
  2. Another factor in the weather, also related to the mountains, are the winds. The trade winds, arrive from the northeast for about 80% of the year. When they are blowing, they will wrap around the mountains, causing a jet stream-like action, increasing its force. We’ll go deeper on this phenomenon later in the article. The other winds on Maui, called Kona Winds, come from the south. They tend to bring with them vog (volcano ash fog) from the Big Island and are generally less strong than the trade winds.
  3. Finally, half the island is within 5 miles of the ocean. This creates a strong marine influence for these parts of Maui, but the other half of the island sees no effects.

Maui’s Four Main Regions
Central Maui
When you land at the airport, you’re in Central Maui. Central Maui is basically Kahului and Wailuku. Wailuku is the home of the government buildings and sits at the base of the West Maui Mountains. Because of it proximity to the mountains, Wailuku tends to be wetter than Kahului. But, being trapped between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala, both towns feature warm temperatures while having less wind and higher humidity than the leeward side of the island.

Leeward Side
The most popular region for visitors is the leeward side, which consists of the south shore (Kihei/Wailea/Makena) and the west side (Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua). Here is where the trade winds really come in to play. The West Maui Mountains splits the winds. As the winds on the north side of island blow, they will continue to hug the north shore, but these same winds will also be funneled between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala. This blast of wind ends up releasing in Maalaea then wrapping along the Kihei/Wailea coasts. This is why it can be so incredibly windy in the Maalaea harbor and the south shore. Seeing whitecaps in the Maalaea Harbor is common. The mountains that funnel the winds though, also block the rain from coming over to the leeward side, which is why it’s the sunniest, warmest and driest part of the island. Just take note of the afternoon winds, which can make the beach, with sand being kicked up, a bit unpleasant.

The coolest part of the island can get downright cold in the winter (the 40s are not unusual). When people say “upcountry,” they’re generally referring to the Makawao-Pukulani-Kula area. The highway from Kula to Haleakala is also considered upcountry. Upcountry, which is between 1,700 to 4500 feet elevation, is a popular location for residents to reside because of the cooler temperatures, which average in the 70’s and low 80’s vs. the 80’s and low 90’s of the leeward side. Upcountry also has far less humidity, especially compared to Central Maui. Generally speaking, Upcountry has the most comfortable climate.

Windward Side
Consisting of the north shore (Paia/Haiku) and the east side (Hana) of Maui, the windward side is noted for its high winds in Paia and rain around Hana. The northeast trade winds in Paia create legendary conditions for kite boarding and windsurfing. In fact, it’s considered one of the best locations in the world for these activities. Meanwhile, down the road on the Hana Highway, if you stay at around sea level, the weather isn’t noticeably more wet. But as you climb elevations along the side of Haleakala, you’ll be entering rain forests where it rains 365 days a year.

Do you have any questions about Maui’s weather? Ask below in the comments, and we’ll try to assist you.

Marine Life Guidelines: The Importance of Ocean Etiquette

It seems whenever people are near marine animals, they tend to lose composure. I mean, we get it. At Hawaii Ocean Project, we run all sorts of ocean charters that bring visitors within stunning proximity. We see firsthand how visitors react, most of them being their first time interacting with sea life, so all too often decorum is the first thing to go. Fortunately, ocean etiquette is easy to keep in mind. It maintains the safety of observation for visitors and protects the well-being of the animals. Safeguards may not sound like fun, but believe us, you can still have fun while being mindful of our ocean friends. Respect isn’t just a human concern. It’s necessary when interacting with nature.

The main thing we like to emphasize is distance. We do get visitors as up close to the phenomenon as possible, but never at the expense of the animal’s privacy or the safety of our passengers. Distance ensures the safety of both parties. Even on our Whale Watch tours, we will never chase down a whale like Captain Ahab. We could potentially disrupt their migration patterns or worse, get between a mother and her calf. That is a fury we’d like to leave to the imagination. In any case, humpback whales are in such high frequency in the surrounding waters of Maui that they tend to find us. When they do, we shut off our engines and let the spectacle unfold.

That’s what we stress the most on our tours. We are not out to disturb or provoke, and we pass this along to our passengers. When you’re in the water, don’t go searching for active phenomena. Let it find you. There are over 250 species to be found at Molokini Crater alone. Dolphins frolic alongside our Lanai excursions. Green sea turtles pop by on shore from time to time. The ocean is plenty active as it is. We are lucky enough to be able to interact with them the way we do.

You are guaranteed to see a variety of sea life on our snorkel tours. These charters are so frequent, the coral’s residents have become accustomed to our presence, but that isn’t something to take advantage of. Though it’s tempting, do not touch the animals. Just a slight curiosity can run the risk of injuring them. Fish are covered in a slimy coating that protects them from disease and infection. A pet, even a touch, is enough to remove the coating on their bodies and thus leave them vulnerable.

Chasing or prodding fish could agitate them, and an agitated fish will do a lot more than prod you back. The same goes for green sea turtles. Just because they’re slow, it does not mean you can chase them. They’re not ninjas, but they do bite. They are protected under Hawaii state law, as are Hawaiian monk seals – themselves protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is all the more reason for us to leave them be. We are not here to bother, just to observe.

We ask that you do not feed the animals either. It may seem harmless, but giving them food they’re not accustomed to can disrupt their feeding cycles and have serious repercussions for their health. Feeding animals conditions them to receive food as opposed to gathering for themselves, thus changing their natural behavior which they will pass onto their young. There’s an entire ecosystem down there that lives in harmony. We are not here to disrupt that.

Ocean etiquette is a simple matter of respect. Everyone, even fish, deserves our respect. This is their home. We are guests. More importantly, we are stewards. It’s up to us. At Hawaii Ocean Project we are doing what we can to minimize our impact on the ocean. We never dump or litter; we take our trash with us. We tie our vessels down on mooring lines instead of anchoring. We immediately cease our engines if there’s a whale nearby and allow them the peace of uninterrupted passage. It’s all for the safety of these animals and their environment. This isn’t about saying what you can or can’t do in the ocean. It’s about being mindful of a place that millions of others call home.

Join us on one of our many ocean tours and discover for yourself what our wonderful ocean habitat has to offer! Mahalo!