Sharks!

Sharks!

Every year, Discovery Channel fans count down the days until the coveted SHARK WEEK begins. Though the Discovery Channel does show the terrifying strength of these cartilaginous fish, it also does a lot to recognize the importance of sharks in the marine ecosystem. Many people consider sharks as evil, frightening, large, scary creatures however, it is important to  realize how vital sharks are to us.

It's Turtle Time in Hawai'i

It's Turtle Time in Hawai'i

Get ready to fill your mind with all things turtle! Dive in and learn the ins & outs of our two most common species of sea turtles here in Hawai’i - the Green Sea Turtle (honu) and the Hawksbill (honu’ea). Summer is turtle season!

8 Facts About Humpback Whales You Probably Never Knew

8 Facts About Humpback Whales You Probably Never Knew

Today, research suggests that up to 12,000 whales could potentially visit Hawaii each winter—which is astounding progress from the dire figures a little over 40 years ago. What's more, is that in addition to the increase in numbers themselves, researchers have been able to learn valuable information about our favorite winter visitors.

Are there sharks here? Yes, they live in the ocean.

Are there sharks here? Yes, they live in the ocean.

As the catamaran approaches Molokini crater and I peer down into the crystal clear turquoise water I tell the guests, “This is going to be a great day for snorkeling”. Questions about fish, coral, and marine life start to be asked and inevitably someone will ask, “Are there sharks here”? My response is always, “Yes, they live in the ocean”.

Life of a Spinner Dolphin

Life of a Spinner Dolphin

As the sun sinks below the horizon and Earth enters into the golden corpuscular hour, groups of spinner dolphins make their way offshore into deep, dark blue water up to 1,000ft. They are on the hunt for prey. Working together in large groups they use clicks, squeaks, and echolocation to communicate with each other to find food.

Thar She Blows! An Intro To Common Whale Behavior On Maui Whale Watching Tours

WE GOT MUGGED! Watch to the end as a humpback whale makes a spy hop to check out our boat yesterday. An unforgettable experience for all! Trilogy boats do not approach whales within 100 yards, however, whales are curious animals that occasionally come up to check us out.

Whale season in Maui is finally upon us, and our Maui whale watching tours are reporting amazing sightings on every trip that heads out. While we can always guarantee humpback sightings during our whale watching tours in Maui, no two tours over the course of the season are ever completely the same. Even if you've been on a whale watch before, or dozens over the course of your lifetime, there is always the chance that taking one more tour could offer a new experience.

When whale watching in Maui,  it isn't the total number of whales that's really very important. Instead, it's what those whales are doing that can make the difference in a whale watch. After all, what would you rather see during a Maui whale watching tour? An ocean full of whales which are just logging at the surface, or a handful of whales which are breaching, pec slapping, spyhopping, and peduncle-throwing their way across the ocean? Humpbacks are known as the most acrobatic of all the world's whale species, and if you can't quite name all the "moves" that humpbacks have in their repertoire, here is a guide which you can use to decipher the most common humpback maneuvers.

Tail Slap

A whale tail hello! Enjoy a tail slap. . ***This video was taken following Dolphin SMART's criteria for responsible wildlife viewing. For more info, check out: http://bit.ly/2hh7mPI *** . . Follow Us: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/trilogyexcu... Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Sail.Trilogy/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sailtrilogy/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/SailTrilogy Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/trilogymaui/

Vigorous tail slapping is one of the easiest maneuvers to spot on a Maui whale watching tour. Striking the water with their powerful flukes, a whale will repeatedly splash against the water anywhere from 3-30 times.

Peduncle Wave

Lisa Graham pec wave watermark border
Lisa Graham pec wave watermark border

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

Despite being the world's 5th largest whale, humpback whales have the largest fin of any animal in the sea (even longer than the fin of a blue whale, whose short fins are similar to a T-Rex dinosaur with short, stumpy arms). More than just being long, the pectoral fin is also incredibly agile, and it's what helps the humpbacks with their aerial maneuvers and ability to twist through the water. Sometimes a whale will wave its pectoral fin, while other times it will repeatedly strike it against the surface of the water.

Spy Hop

Photo Credit: Captain Katie

Not seen as often as a pec wave or a tail slap, a spy hop is when a whale will poke straight out of the water to scan what's happening above the surface. Humpback whales have just as good vision above water as they do below water, and here a very inquisitive humpback spy hops to check us out.

Peduncle Throw

MindsEye_PJ on Flickr

While not entirely as common as a breach, a peduncle throw is an aggressive maneuver where a humpback whale will throw the latter half of its body out of the water. The peduncle muscle that comprises the back third of the whale's body is the largest muscle in the animal kingdom, and it's the driving force behind explosive maneuvers such as breaches and peduncle throws like this one.

Head Lunge

Whale watching in Maui

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

A head lunge is somewhat like a big belly flop, where a whale will rise about a third of the way out of the water and then splash back down to the surface. This behavior is most commonly seen in large competition pods, where groups of males who are competing for a female will lunge and splash at each other. Here, a large whales prepares for a lunge off the southern coastline of Lana'i.

Logging

Photo Credit: Trilogy Excursions

Logging is a term which refers to when a whale is floating just beneath the surface. With only their blowholes and peduncle fin breaking the surface of the water, it's almost as if they're sunbathing for a moment or taking a relaxing nap. You'll often see logging when there is a large mother who nursing a newborn calf, or after an extended series of breaches when the whale simply needs to rest.

Sounding Dive

Photo Credit: Trilogy Excursions

Adult humpbacks can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes, and you know that a whale is taking an extended dive when you see the tail flukes go vertical. The good news about a sounding dive is that it makes for a nice photo opportunity (and the chance to see the pattern on the bottom of the flukes), but it also usually means the whale is waving goodbye for a while.

Swimming Inverted

Derek Klein watermark border
Derek Klein watermark border

Photo Credit: T Derek Klein

Every year there are a couple of whale watching tours where we are treated to a special show. Sometimes whales will approach the boat when we are completely stopped in the water, and they will swim around the boat in circles and even swim upside down. This is what's known as being "mugged" by a whale, because there is nothing we can do to move the boat until the whale decides to leave. Here you can see the white underbelly of a whale which is swimming completely inverted.

Breach

Surprise!! A rare video capture on our way back from Lana'i. Vid cred: Nancy from Texas, who was on the right boat at the right time. ***This video was taken following Dolphin SMART's criteria for responsible wildlife viewing. For more info, check out: http://bit.ly/2hh7mPI *** . . Follow Us: YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/trilogyexcu...

Without a doubt the full breach is everyone's favorite move, and there are few words to describe the sense of awe of watching a 40-ton animal jump. With little to no warning, these powerful animals will propel themselves out of the water with only 2-3 flaps of their flukes. For an adult humpback, this can mean lifting 90,000-100,000 pounds completely out of the water. While we don't know the exact reasons that humpbacks choose to breach, theories range from sloughing off barnacles and working out their tail muscles to trying to look around. The most commonly agreed upon theory, however, is that humpback whales perform dramatic breaches simply because they can.

Of course, the only thing better than a full breach in front of the the boat is the rarely seen, rarely photographed...

Double Breach!

Double Breach on a whale watch in Maui

Photo Credit: Trilogy Excursions

Do you have photos of a good whale move in Maui? Send us photos on our Facebook page, or come and join us for a whale watching tour during the exciting whale season in Maui. Have any questions about whales in Maui? Leave us a question in the comments below and we'll be more than happy to reply!

Humpbacks Are Back, Alright!

Humpbacks Are Back, Alright!

One thing is certain on our daily whale watches from Lahaina, Ka‘anapali and Ma‘alaea: The humpbacks are back. For islanders, it’s our indicator that the winter season has begun when our gentle giants return to the waters of their birth and for visitors, it’s a once in a lifetime experience observing these marine mammals in our crystal clear waters, wild and free.

Honolua and Mokulei‘a: The Two Bays of the Kaanapali Snorkeling Tour

Honolua Bay Maui
Honolua Bay Maui

During the long, breezy, months of summer—when tradewinds whistle through sunny blue skies and north shore beaches are calm—spending a day snorkeling at Honolua Bay is one of the best activities on Maui. In winter—a time of year when humpback whales leap powerfully off Maui’s shoreline, and mauka showers invite afternoon rainbows to the ridges above Ka‘anapali—the ability to go snorkeling at Honolua Bay isn’t always a guarantee, but that’s a point we’ll get to later after we briefly discuss her magic. After all, that’s the word that most Maui locals would use to describe Honolua Bay. Whether it’s snorkeling with sea turtles above a Technicolor reef or watching sunbeams illuminate the valley, there is a palpable magic to Honolua that hangs in her tropical air.

Located along Maui’s northwestern shoreline, Honolua Bay is the preferred destination of our Kaanapali snorkeling tours. We will frequently also visit Mokulei‘a Bay (commonly referred to as “Slaughterhouse” since there was once a slaughterhouse on the cliffs), and even though the bays are right next to each other and are part of the same conservation area, the snorkeling at Honolua and Mokulei‘a bays are completely different in their offerings.

What Will I See Snorkeling At Honolua Bay?

Snorkeling at Honolua Bay Maui
Snorkeling at Honolua Bay Maui

In a word, everything. Ok, well maybe not everything, but thanks to its size and its wide range of depths the bay is home to a diverse amount of marine life. From where we moor during our Ka‘anapali snorkeling tours, a protected section of shallow reef is only a few short kicks from the boat. This is where you’ll find reef fish grazing on the coral and yellowstriped goatfish foraging in the sand. A large school of ta‘ape congregates beneath the boat, and experienced free divers can dive 15 feet down to swim through the blue and yellow cloud..

Tracing the shoreline towards the rocky beach, the depth decreases to about 5 feet and coral is replaced by rock. Here in the shallows is where you’ll find large schools of akule or perhaps the occasional eel, as shy fish like the kupipi poke their heads from rocks in the surge zone. The middle of the bay is a sandy bottom with no marine life to speak of, so all of the action when it comes to snorkeling takes place on the bay’s rocky fringes. While first-time snorkelers will love the shallows, experienced snorkelers should follow the reef where it drops off into the sand channel. Here, along the 20-ft. ledge, turquoise parrotfish glide between coral heads, red menpachi hide beneath ledges, and massive mounds of lime green lobe coral form aquatic, underwater castles.

The real treat, however, is Honolua’s sea turtles, and the best place to find the iconic green turtles is at the “turtle cleaning station.” Since they spend the majority of their lives underwater, algae gathers on turtle’s shells and they don’t have a way to clean it. Luckily, herbivorous reef fish are none to happy to feed on the algae growing on the shells, and here at the turtle cleaning station (which isn’t all that dissimilar from an underwater car wash), turtles will sit in nooks in the coral and offer the reef fish a feast.

Visitors who are snuba diving will have the best view of the cleaning, and snorkelers can wait for the shiny clean turtle to surface for a breath of air. To find the turtle cleaning station, follow the reef where it drops towards the sand channel until a depth of 25 feet, and where the reef makes a 90° turn towards the shoreline, look down to see if there are turtles camouflaged in the reef..

How Is Mokulei‘a Different?

Despite being next to Honolua Bay, Mokulei‘a offers a completely different experience from its larger, more popular neighbor. Unlike Honolua which is protected from the tradewinds, Mokule‘ia can be more exposed to the high winds and surf. The result is a bay with more rock than coral, and Mokluei‘a has a unique underwater topography of swim-thrus, boulders, and sand channels.

The sea turtles at Mokulei‘a tend to be a bit smaller than at Honolua, and since they’re lungs haven’t reached the full size of an adult's, the result is turtles which  surface more often and spend less amounts of time on the bottom.

Snorkeling at Slaughterhouse Maui
Snorkeling at Slaughterhouse Maui

Mokulei‘a is also home to octopus and spotted eagles rays—two species more frequently seen here than at neighboring Honolua. Though it takes a keen eye to spot these masters of camouflage, you can look for octopus along the vertical wall or in the shallow rocks towards shore. Eagle rays, on the other hand, tend to buzz the sand channel near the point that separates the bays, and while they won’t hang with snorkelers for long, these soaring, spotted—and fast—critters are mesmerizing in their grace.

snorkeling Honolua Bay
snorkeling Honolua Bay

What Is The Best Time Of Year For Snorkeling At Honolua Bay?

Technically, it’s possible to enjoy snorkeling at Honolua Bay during any time of year, but the clearest, calmest, and best conditions are most commonly found during summer. During the winter months of October-April, large swells can produce 20 ft. waves that come crashing through Honolua.

While this is good news to island surfers (and anyone watching the surf), the Bay can become a maelstrom of whitewater that is hazardous and poor for snorkeling. Other times, when winter rains drop much-needed water on the slopes of Mauna Kahalawai—the excess runoff from Honolua stream can greatly reduce visibility. Mokulei‘a Bay, however, doesn’t have a stream, so it sometimes can still offer beautiful snorkeling even when Honolua is murky.

If high surf creates unsafe conditions, our Ka‘anapali snorkeling tours will instead head south to Olowalu, where Hawaiian green sea turtles and healthy corals create a tropical underwater playground. While our destination of choice is always Honolua, here is a general estimate—given the time of year—that Honolua Bay will be accessible:

May 1-August 31: 90%

September 1-October 31: 75%

November 1- March 15: 40%

March 16-April 31: 60%

For more information on Maui’s weather systems, be sure to read our post “Understanding Maui’s Wind, Weather, and Waves,” and if you have any questions about our Kaanapali snorkeling tours you can leave them in the comments below.

Aloha, and we'll see you at the "The Bay!"

Honolua Bay Maui
Honolua Bay Maui

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The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

While there is no doubting that whale watching season in Maui is one of our favorite times of the year,  the only bad part about whale season in Maui is that it eventually comes to an end. Our spinner dolphins, on the other hand, are playful residents of Maui waters who stay with us throughout the year, and as a Dolphin SMART operator we welcome the opportunity to help educate and protect our native dolphins. Since Hawaiian spinner dolphins are such a highlight of our sailing tours in Maui, we figured we'd compile this online guide to help you understand more about them. These are some of the most frequently asked questions we receive about our Hawaiian spinner dolphins, and if you still have any questions at the end of the article you can leave them in the comments below. 

So, how big are Hawaiian Spinner dolphins? They look pretty small?

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

When compared to larger species such as bottlenose dolphins (which can grow up to over 12 feet in length), Hawaiian spinner dolphins appear pretty small. A fully- grown Hawaiian spinner dolphin is only 5-6 feet long, and when the babies are born and swimming alongside their mothers they measure a mere 2.5 feet! (Ironically, the world's smallest dolphin is the "Maui" dolphin which is only found in New Zealand, and these endangered dolphins only grow to a maximum length of 5 feet). One way the Captain can classify a spinner dolphin from afar is by looking at the size of the dorsal fin, which will always be a smaller than a bottlenose or pan-tropical spotted dolphin.

Why the name Hawaiian Spinner dolphins, and why do they spin?

As the name suggests—the dolphins are able perform up to seven rotations while jumping completely out of the water. There are different species of spinner dolphins located in various corners of the globe, but the Hawaiian spinner dolphins are a distinct subspecies which inhabit Hawaiian waters. As for the reason why the spinners spin, there are numerous theories which are considered by researchers, but nobody knows for sure. The leading theories are that they are trying to remove parasites or pesky remora fish which cling on to their fins, or that they are using the spinning as a form of communication to get the attention of others in the pod. There has also been a theory put forth that the spinning is a sort of "exclamation point" which serves as a final thought on whatever they just did, but for the most part, the reason why spinner dolphins jump out of the water is simply because they can.

Check out a video of spinner dolphins jumping off of the island of Lanai

What is the best place to see Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins?

In Maui County, there are three distinct populations of spinner dolphins which you're likely to encounter. On our snorkeling tours to Lanai, we often encounter a pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins who frequent the southwestern coastline. We'll often see these dolphins on the way to Shark Fin Cove (Kaunolu), outside of Hulopo'e Bay, or along the cliffs which stretch from Manele Harbor to Kamaiki Point. In South Maui, there is a pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins which frequent the area around La Perouse Bay, and occasionally we will spot these dolphins on our snorkeling tours to Molokini. Finally, on the west side of the island, there is a pod of dolphins along the West Maui coastline which you can sometimes find around Honolua Bay or directly off Ka'anapali Beach.

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

What do Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins eat?

Hawaiian spinner dolphins hunt in groups like an aquatic pack of wolves. Targeting species such as lantern fish and squid (both of which are around two inches in size), spinner dolphins can attain depths of over 1,000 feet in search of food for the pod. All feeding takes place at night, which is when the dolphins move to deeper water offshore from the main Hawaiian Islands. Other predators such as large sharks are a major concern to the dolphins, so they hunt together in a large group to increase the safety in numbers. And even though they have moderately sharp teeth, theories have been put forth that a large pod of spinner dolphins can actually kill or immobilize prey simply by directing targeted sound waves at the prey. Whoa.

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

How do spinner dolphins sleep?

Knowledge about the sleep cycles of Hawaiian spinner dolphins is one of the most important aspects of keeping them protected. Unlike us humans who "turn off" our brains whenever we go to sleep, spinner dolphins remain in an "alpha state" where a portion of their brain is always switched on so that they remember to come up to breathe. In essence, each hemisphere of their brain takes a short "cat nap" while the other half stays awake, and during this rest period there isn't any spinning or energetic surface activity. Because they spend all night hunting, Hawaiian spinner dolphins like to rest during the day in shallow waters by the shoreline

Can I swim with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins?

This is one of our most frequently asked questions, and the short answer is that, no, you can't, because swimming with spinner dolphins during the daylight hours is very disruptive of their sleep cycle. Because they have stayed up all night hunting, the dolphins need to rest during the daylight hours to prepare for another round of hunting (remember, just because the dolphins are still swimming doesn't mean they are awake). When you swim into a pod of sleeping dolphins, it is no different than jumping into someone's bed while they are trying to take a nap; the disturbance ends up waking the dolphins, and consequently they get a poor sleep due to the constant interruptions. While this might not seem like that big of a deal, research has shown that the alertness level of Hawaiian spinner dolphins has seen a decrease in recent years, and there has been a marked increase in Hawaiian spinner dolphins with wounds from cookie cutter sharks (after all, it's harder to evade a predator when you've been up all night).

On the other hand, if you just happen to be swimming in a place like Hulopo'e Bay and a pod of dolphins surrounds you, the best thing to do is not to chase after them and sit back and enjoy the show.

Can you hear Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins underwater?

Yes, and it's amazing! When Hawaiian spinner dolphins are in the general vicinity of where you're snorkeling in Maui, there is a distinct series of clicks and whistles which seems to hover overhead. The sound even more noticeable when snuba diving in Maui (since you're underwater, of course). Because sound can travel very well in water, but is almost impossible to tell which direction it's coming from, the sound of dolphins can seem both distant and close and and create an enchanting soundtrack to your snorkel.

Click here to hear recordings of spinner dolphins in Hawaii. 

Do spinner dolphins migrate to Alaska like the whales?

Hawaiian spinner dolphins are year-round residents of the waters here in Hawaii. The reason that whales migrate north to Alaska is because their food source isn't found in Hawaii. The spinner dolphins, on the other hand, feed on small fish which are found in Hawaii so there isn't the need to leave. In fact, preliminary research has shown that there are three distinct populations of spinner dolphins even within the Hawaiian Islands: a population which remains around the island of Kauai, a population which inhabits the central chain (from Oahu-Maui County), and a population which lives in the waters of the western coastline of the Big Island. So not only do the dolphins not migrate to Alaska, but they barely migrate within the state of Hawaii!

Photo Credit: Divemaster Matthew Wheeler

How many dolphins are in a pod?

The questions of how many dolphins are in a pod is actually a complicated issue. Sometimes you can encounter pods containing upwards of 300 dolphins, whereas other times you can find pods of spinner dolphins which barely stretch over 15. While the exact answer to this question is disputed, one thing that researchers seem to agree on is that the average pod size is shrinking. One theory which has been suggested for the decreasing pod size is that since human interaction with dolphins has increased (ie swimming with dolphins during their resting hours), adult pod members don't have the same level of alertness which is required to protect the pod from attack. There has been a marked increase in the number of scars from cookie cutter sharks, and it's theorized that younger members of the pod could be more vulnerable to predation when the pod hasn't been adequately rested. The good news is that we can regularly encounter a pod off of Lana'i with dolphins which number in the hundreds, and while this makes for exhilarating dolphin viewing on our snorkeling tours to Lanai, it's important we pay attention to sustainable practices to ensure their long-term survival.

Photo Credit: Divemaster Matthew Wheeler

What are the predators of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins?

In addition to cookie cutter sharks and larger sharks which only frequent the open ocean, spinner dolphins also must watch out for false killer whales. 

Why do dolphins swim on the bow of the boat?

While we always give dolphins a respectful amount of space so as not to disturb their sleep patterns, there are some times when dolphins will approach our catamaran and swim along the bows. The reason for this is that the boat creates a compression wave just beneath the surface of the water, and the dolphins can literally "surf" in the wake of the wave which is just off the bow.

 

Have you ever had a dolphin spin on to the boat?

No, we have never had a dolphin spin on to the boat—although you would never believe the height some of these dolphins can get when they leap just mere feet in front of you!

Have any other questions about Hawaiian spinner dolphins? Leave them in the comments section below and we'll do our best to provide an answer. All media in this article adheres to Dolphin SMART guidelines, and for more information on our Maui snorkeling tours where you can encounter Hawaiian spinner dolphins, visit www.sailtrilogy.com. Or, follow Trilogy on Facebook for photos of dolphin sightings whenever they occur on our boats. Aloha! 

Photo Credits: [Mikol on Flickr (how big are spinner dolphins); Brad Scott (migrate), Rocky Silverman (false killer), Jason Clark (pod left), Mark Driessen (pod right), Kristen Belew (can I swim with Hawaiian spinner dolphins) ]

 

 

Ten Facts About Whale Watching In Maui

It's that time of year again! Large winter swells have begun to hit the north shore, Lahaina is getting those cold 65 degree nights (brrr!), and the waters off Maui have begun to teem with the splashes of acrobatic whales. Whale season in Maui has officially begun, and our Maui whale watching tours are already reporting a healthy amount of action. To get you prepped for this upcoming whale season, here are ten facts about humpback whales in Maui that will offer some insight into Hawaii's favorite mammals.

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

1. What kind of whales are in Maui?

On 99.9% of Maui whale watching tours you're going to be watching humpback whales. Although rare species such as false killer whales and pilot whales occasionally will be seen closer to shore,  it’s the aerial, acrobatic humpbacks which make for enthralling Maui whale watching experiences that the island has become so famous for.

Maui whale watching tours

Photo Credit: Divemaster Matthew Wheeler

2. Where do these whales come from?

Technically these whales are from Maui since this is where they were born! In practical terms, however, the humpback whales have migrated here from the nutrient-filled waters of Alaska. During the summer months the humpbacks will gorge themselves on schools of krill and small fish, and once the water in Alaska becomes too cold for their liking, they begin the long journey south. For expectant mothers, the migration is more about survival than comfort; since newborn calves haven't had the chance to accumulate large amounts of fat stores, they would most likely freeze within days of being born in the cold waters of Alaska. Although humpbacks from Alaska will also migrate to Mexico and the islands of the western Pacific, the majority of North Pacific humpback whales choose to spend their winters in Maui.

Humpback Whale migration pattern
Humpback Whale migration pattern

Image courtesy of Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

3. So how big are they?

Humpback whales are the world’s 5th largest whales and can grow to between 40-50 ft. Females are often a bit larger than males due to reverse sexual dimorphism, which is a fancy way of saying that they grow bigger than the males so that they can give birth to a 12 ft., 2000-lb. baby! When it comes to their weight, adult humpbacks weigh about one ton per foot, which means that a 20 ft. humpback would weigh 20 tons, and a full-grown adult can weigh upwards of 50 tons!

Maui whale watching tours

Photo Credit: Divemaster Matthew Wheeler

4. So what do the whales eat while in Maui?

Actually, humpback whales will go the entire time they spend in Maui—up tofour months—without eating anything at all. Consequently the adult whales will lose up to 1/3 of their body weight during their winter vacation. The reason why adult whales don’t eat while they’re in Hawaii is simply because there isn’t anything for them to eat, even if they wanted to. Unlike toothed species such as sperm whales, humpbacks are equipped instead with baleen,  a hard substance made out of keratin that also comprises human fingernails.

In a process known as “filter-feeding” the whales will expand their ventral pleats to ingest the same volume of water as a hollowed out African elephant, and they then use the plates of baleen to strain out any krill, plankton, or small fish which may have been caught up in the gulp. The water passes through the baleen, and whatever food is left behind is consequently swallowed. Because Maui’s waters are so warm, however, they are devoid of the whale’s primary food source, so attempting to feed while in Maui would be the equivalent of taking a huge gulp of water and then spitting it all out.

krill9
krill9

5. But the calves must be eating somehow in order to grow?

Even though adult humpbacks don’t eat for the entire time they’re in Maui, the calves are nursing mom’s milk. Unlike 2% milk which we might buy in the grocery store, however, whale’s milk is close to a 40% milkfat, thereby making it more of a yogurt or cottage cheese. The calves will consume up to 100 gallons of this milk on a daily basis, and due to the copious amount of feeding they can actually gain anywhere from 7 to 10 pounds every hour!

Maui whale watching tours

6. So why do whales come to Maui?

Although humpback whales can be spotted throughout the entire Hawaiian Island chain, of all the humpbacks which migrate to Maui, the majority are found in the shallow waters between Maui, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i. There was a time only 18,000 years ago when the four islands of Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, and Kaho‘olawe all comprised a large island known as Maui Nui (which was slightly larger than the current size of the Big Island).

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

At the end of the last ice age, however, scientists estimate that sea levels in this part of the Pacific rose an average of 300 ft., thereby spilling into the valleys of Maui Nui and inundating the low-lying areas. The end-result of this occurrence was that Maui Nui was splintered into the four islands which comprise Maui County today. The reason this is important for the whales, however, is that whereas areas such as the northern shores of Maui and Moloka‘i have water which is thousands of feet deep, the waters in the islands of Maui County average only 300 ft. Consequently, this area forms a safe, protected body of water that is free of large, toothy predators (such as Orca), and is the perfect “kiddie pool” for nurturing newborn calves.

Maui whale watching tours

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

7. How long does it take the whales to travel between Maui and Alaska?

Humpbacks definitely have it harder than humans when it comes to traveling between Hawaii and Alaska. Whereas us humans can make the journey from Maui to Anchorage on a 5-hour flight, it can take the humpbacks in the range of 6-8 weeks to successfully navigate their way from the feeding grounds to the breeding grounds. Seeing as there isn’t anywhere to stop along the way to take a rest, it’s believed that the humpbacks make a continuous, non-stop journey at an average speed of 3-5 mph.

Maui whale watching tours

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

8. So how do whales navigate during the journey?

As anyone who has ever gone scuba diving can attest to, when there are no landmasses to use as reference points it can be pretty easy to get lost. Amazingly, these fascinating humpbacks successfully navigate to the most remote islands on Earth amidst a sea of blue which looks the same in every direction.

But how?

Intriguingly enough, autopsies have shown that humpback whales have trace amounts of a naturally-occurring substance called magnetite that exists in the forefront of their brains. As the name implies, magnetite has magnetic properties to it, and it’s believed that the whales use this magnetite as a means of tapping into the magnetic pull of the Earth to determine which way they need to travel.

Photo Credit: Island Dream Productions

9. OK, but now the big question: Why do whales breach?

The honest truth is that no one knows for sure. There are a lot theories floating around out there—such as that they are using the force of the impact to slough barnacles off of their skin, or that they are working out their tail muscles for the long journey back home—but the most accepted answer that everyone can agree on is simply because they can.

The reason why humpbacks are so aerial in the first place is that despite being only the 5th largest whale, they possess the strongest muscle in the animal kingdom known as the peduncle. Occupying the latter third ofa humpback’s body, the peduncle muscle is so strong that even a fully-grown adult is able to propel themselves entirely out of the water with only two or three flaps of their tail flukes.

10. Ok. I’m sold. So when is the best time to go on a whale watch in Maui?

Although the first whale sightings will usually occur sometime in October, whale season officially runs from December 15-May 15.  Since activity tapers towards the end of the season, however, most Maui whale watches stop running sometime towards the end of April. While sightings are possible all the way until the first week of June, the peak of the season with the most activity is from January 15-March 31.

Want to learn more about our Maui whale watching tours? Check out the various tours on our website, or follow us on Facebook for footage throughout the season!