Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Maui Part III

Have you ever been whale watching? I hadn’t until a few days ago, though my parents have gone to Hawaii and Alaska to see humpback whales in their natural habitats. I wasn’t so sure I could see the big deal; I had seen pictures. I’d been to Sea World. So I got the idea: They spout water out of their blowholes and sometimes jump out of the ocean to make a big splash. Cool.

In fact, this trip turned out to be a rather stressful one for Terry and me. I had trouble getting the time off, we had to rush to the airport after work Thursday, we had to take a red eye home only to drive immediately to work that day. And the trip was barely four days in Hawaii. Would it be worth it?

Oh, yes. Yes it was.

Whale watching is now one of the top ten travel experiences of my life, ranking right up there with pastries in Paris and honeymooning in London. We didn’t do our official whale watching trip until our last day on the island, but we were able to spot whales from the shore, during drives, and even from my parents’ hotel room. Among the six of us, we had four sets of binoculars and one telephoto lens, but we could see the whales without any special equipment. And they were everywhere! We were nearly guaranteed to spot one anytime we looked at the ocean longer than 30 seconds. My parents said they call it “whale soup” when so many are active in one area.

So cute

Did I mention it was a windy day?

But going on the whale watching trip itself was far and away the best way to observe the whales’ behavior and learn more about their activity. Our original charter through Captain Steve’s was canceled due to crazy winds, but a little further around the island we were able to catch the PacificWhale Foundation’s Ocean Explorer. First we browsed through their gift shops and a gorgeous photo gallery, then we hopped aboard the intimate vessel. We only had around 40 people on board, and we were able to walk around to get a better view of the ocean as we wished.
Do you see the whale? The black spot directly in the center of the picture.

Sorry about the lack of a telephoto lens here... 

Immediately out of the harbor, we saw the highlight: a full breach! You’ve seen it in movies, commercials, photos – I couldn’t believe we got lucky enough to spot it. The whale jumped completely out of the water. Our on-board naturalist said that scientists aren’t actually sure why whales breach, but their best guesses include communication and ridding their bodies of lice from their migration. It’s actually fascinating to learn what marine biologists don’t know about humpbacks; they’ve never seen a live birth and can’t understand a lot of their communicative behaviors. Still, we learned a lot as we found several whales near the surface:
  • Humpbacks migrate to Hawaii in the winter to mate and/or give birth because there are no predators.
  • They migrate back to Alaska every summer because Hawaii has no food for them (much like penguins, the whales go several months without food, and moms lose about one-third of their bodyweight).
  • The gestation period for a humpback whale is 12 months, and a newborn calf weighs about 3,000 pounds.
  • An adult humpback weighs about 80,000 pounds and can reach 45 feet in length.
  • The “arm” (flipper) can be about 15 feet in length.
  • Humpbacks can swim at up to 30-35 mph in short spurts, and it takes them about four weeks to travel from Alaska to Hawaii.
  • If you want to whale watch in Hawaii, the best time to go is mid-December through mid-May (February and March are peak times).

 All of it was fascinating, and I would certainly go again to try for a less windy day. Luckily, we had sun, so it wasn’t freezing, but the wind made for a bit of a rough ride. Along the way, we spotted a mama and her calf, along with several males vying for her attention. 

A mama whale on her back slapping her flippers back and forth.

Our charter also dropped a microphone into the ocean, and we were able to hear the whales communicating. I couldn’t believe how loud they were! Apparently, only males sing, and they have specific songs that last about 20 minutes and then loop. The males all sing the same songs and pick them up from each other, changing their song each year. How cool would it be if your job was to study whale songs?

Listening to the whales

After our awesome trip, we ventured to Aloha Mixed Plate, a local food joint that serves Hawaiian and Pacific Islander favorites. I think Terry’s order of the Kalua pork was my favorite item, but my Kalbi ribs came mighty close.

So much meat

Seriously. Adorable.

Then we were off and running and showering before racing to the airport for our flight. We stopped over in Honolulu and grabbed a quick bite to eat (shockingly, I had a salad because I felt very guilty about not getting all my vegetables in for the day). Then we suffered through uncomfortable sleep on our red eye and were off to work! Yes, we are crazy. Yes, we would have loved to go home and sleep. Yes, I had my first soda of the year to get me through the day. But it was one of those days where I’m thrilled to be a teacher because my students give me energy and helped me stay awake.

And it was all worth it. :-)

What are some of your top ten travel experiences? Any must-see or must-do lists?


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