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Archive for the ‘Whale Watching Tour – Pacific Whale Foundation’ Category

We decided prior to our trip that we really wanted to check out a whale-watching tour during our next visit to the island of Maui. We had been there twice before, and had seen whales from shore both times, but wanted to get a closer look at these amazing creatures. We decided to book a tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to research, conservation, and education, and are experts on all things whale-related.

Here is my favorite photo I took during our whale-watching adventure:

Humpback Whale

We waited until we arrived on the island to book our trip, to make sure the whales were still there (whale season starts in November and ends in April). But with all the action we observed on our first night at Secret Cove Beach, we realized that a whale-watching tour was definitley something we wanted to try. We tried to book online through the Pacific Whale Foundation website, but had a few difficulties with their website. It turns out they had just switched over to a new site, and some of the updates were not working as planned. They were aware of the problems, and working to fix them. Since their office/store was only a 10 minute drive from our condo in Kihei, we decided to just drive over and make the booking in person. They are located right beside the Maui Aquarium in the town of Ma’alaea.

We booked a two hour whale-watch tour, beginning at the Ma’alaea harbor at 8am. We figured the calmer morning waters would be better for sighting whales. Once we had checked in that morning, I noticed a map of confirmed sightings outside the building. It showed most of the activity occuring closer to Lahaina, their other departure location. So I thought perhaps we had chosen the wrong location. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about.

It is a quick 5 minute walk from the store down to the wharf. Before you get on board they take a photo of your group. You can then purchase an 8×10 copy of the photo for $10 at the store upon your return. It turned out quite nice, and we ended up buying it. We were right up near the front of the lineup to get on the boat. They make a call for any PWF members – who get priority boarding and their pick of the seats. The members all seemed to sit up at the front of the boat, so we figured we might as well sit there too. (We got splashed a bit on the way back once the wind started to pick up – cool and refreshing – and they were amazing seats otherwise)

Ocean Discovery

Once the boat gets away from the harbor and out on the ocean you are allowed to move about, and check out the other areas of the boat. So choice of seat did not end up being a big deal. Once the action started nobody on the boat was sitting down.

The captain said to keep an eye out, and if anyone spotted anything to make sure and point to get the crew’s attention in case they hadn’t seen it yet. We hadn’t got far out of the harbor, when I started seeing some splashing right in front of the boat. I thought it might be some dolphins, but it turned out to be a school of flying fish. Very interesting creatures, but not what we were looking for. I tried to get a few photos of them on the way back to the harbor, but it was quite a challenge to photograph a fast moving fish from a moving boat.

It did not take long after leaving the harbor for the captain to spot a whale spouting in the distance, about two miles ahead towards Kahoolawe. We thought that simply meant we wouldn’t be getting a refund (you get a free second trip if no whales are spotted), and that we had missed the only whale of the trip. But it soon became clear this would not be the case. We kept getting closer and closer, and the whales kept getting bigger and bigger. But then they disappeared and were gone. And the search began once again. We then found a small group of four or five whales and got a bit closer than the first whales:

Group of Whales

But these too disappeared rather quickly, so it was back to the lookout post. I enjoyed this part as well, scanning the horizon for any sign of activity. Within a few minutes some more whales were spotted back towards Maui, so we headed back in that direction. There ended up being quite a few over there, and we ended up with whales in a number of directions. There are laws against approaching within 100 feet of the whales. Once you begin to get near the 100 foot zone you must turn off the motor, and the whales can then choose to keep moving or to come in for a closer look. With a number of whales around us, they cut the motor and turned the boat off completely. It was amazing to just be floating out on the ocean with the whales – and very peaceful.

WhaleWatching Tour

They turned on the underwater hydrophone, to see if there were any whales singing  in the area. As soon as they turned it on it was so loud that they had to turn it down! They said there must have been a singer very close for it to be so loud, and seemed quite excited. I took a video of the ocean and the sound, but didnt capture any whales at the surface… at least at first:

All of the sudden, on the other side of the boat, a mother whale and baby surfaced within a few hundred feet of the boat. They kept getting closer and closer.

Maui Whale Watching

The baby popped its head straight out of the water a few times to have a look around.

Baby Humpback

We figured the show was over, and that they would head on their way as they started to move off in the other direction. But then the baby decided it was not done with us yet, turned about and headed back towards the boat – with the mother whale right beside it of course. I managed to get a quick video:

And a few photos of course:

Here They Come

There were a lot of people up against the rail of the boat near the front, so I didn’t have the best view. My brother was looking out the other side of the boat for other whales. As I was rushing towards the back of the boat, I told him ‘we need to get to the back of the boat right now’. We got back there just in time to see them swim by within twenty feet of the boat. The water was so clear you could see them perfectly (if only we had the polarizing filter attached at the time):

Close Encounter

Even the PWF staff on the boat were very excited that the mom and baby had gotten that close to the boat. They were right there at the edge watching along with the customers. It was absolutely amazing to see them that close – an unforgettable experience.

Baby Close-Up

On the way back the PWF staff said that our trip was probably one of the top five whale-watching tours they had done all season, which is pretty incredible since we were right near the end of the season (the whales are there over the winter from November through to April).

There will likely be some more photos to follow as well, especially once Shauna gets some of her’s uploaded. All of our whale-watching photos were taken with a 50mm lens and a 85mm lens. No super zooms or telephoto shots. It was amazing to be so close to so many whales.

Photo of the mother whale swimming alongside the boat:
Tail Waving

and under the water:
Under the Water

At one point another adult whale was heading straight for the boat as well, and seemed like it would dive right under us. I headed for the far side again to watch it come out the other side, but did not see anything. It must have dove straight down, or made a quick turn before it got under the boat.

Once the mom and baby headed on their way, we were able to start the boat up once again (our two hours was almost up). As we were heading back to the harbor a whale suddenly popped up and spouted within 100 feet of us – which is very close when you are cruising along. The captain cut the motors immediately and the surprised staff came back over the intercom. They said that they are not often surprised like that, but had no idea this one was coming up right there. Only a few of us got up to head for the rail on the side of the boat this time, too much action for them already I suppose. This whale just kept on its way however, and was soon out of the 100 foot zone. So the engines were turned back on and we began our trip back to Ma’alaea harbor.

Humpback

Even if we had only seen a whale or two it still would have been a very worthwhile trip. The views of the islands were incredible with Maui, Lanai, Molokini, and Kahoolawe all in sight. But with all the up close encounters it was a trip that will never be forgotten. I absolutely recommend that you take two hours from your trip to get out on the waters and try a Pacific Whale Foundation whale watching tour.

Maui Whale-watching

Whale-Watching

Beside the Boat

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