Panel wants to make whale watching a Hawaiian experience

Sol Kaho‘ohalahala wants workshops to provide cultural cues for tour operators

KIHEI — Hawaiian cultural workshops for tour operators would be one of the ways officials would like to incorporate island culture in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary plans and activities.

It is part of a vision of Sol Kaho’ohalahala, chairman of the sanctuary’s Advisory Council.

He explained that on a whale watching tour in Hawaii, when one sees a whale spouting, people may say “There she blows,” an English expression, not Hawaiian. The line is from the novel “Moby Dick” by American writer, Herman Melville, published in 1851.

“We are in Hawaii, why are we not describing that . . . action in its Hawaiian terms?” Kaho’ohalahala asked.

He noted that whale spouting has energy, strength and sound. It relates to the whale, or kohola’s, breath, or “ha” in Hawaiian.

“Without that (ha), there will be nothing here,” he said.

The Sanctuary Advisory Council met at the sanctuary Wednesday in Kihei. Subcommittees on research, education, conservation and Native Hawaiian matters began discussing the implementation of Hawaiian culture.

Congress created the sanctuary in 1992 to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaii.

“This could be an ongoing process for us,” said Allen Tom, regional director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries.

Tom supports incorporating more Hawaiian culture into the sanctuary. Now, there’s no timeline on when implementation would take place, Tom added.

But a working group to explore funding sources was taking shape on Wednesday.

During a break in the meeting, Kaho’ohalahala explained that there are qualities and attributes that the whale has that also relate to the skill sets and culture of Native Hawaiians.

This includes the internal navigation that whales have that bring them to Hawaii every year. In Hawaiian language, an astronomer/navigator is called “kilohoku,” Kaho’ohalahala said.

It’s also important for people to understand where the whales visit and why they are important to Native Hawaiians, he said.

According to the sanctuary’s website, Hawaiians were aware of the presence of whales in Hawaiian waters, but people still wonder why there is such a scarce amount of information on the mammal dating back to ancient times.

But the site said theories vary. Some believe whales may not have been present in Hawaiian waters until the past two centuries. Others say Hawaiians may have viewed the whales as sacred, and that information was kept secret and reserved to only a chosen few.

On Wednesday, some of the ideas that came out of the subcommittees included having internal orientations for staff members, volunteers and sanctuary council members on Hawaiian culture and how it relates to the whale; having audio-visual material explaining the culture along with having other information that explains the humpback whale from the Hawaiian culture prospective.

Other ideas included using both English and Hawaiian in signs, such as using the word “kohola,” or whale in Hawaiian. The public also could be engaged at the Kihei visitor center, sanctuary kiosks around the state and in programs on Oahu.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at