PWF will ‘not be hosting’ World Whale Day fest

Email announces cancellation but officials are said to be reformatting February events

The Pacific Whale Foundation told its supporters via email Monday that it would not be hosting its annual World Whale Day & Parade in February. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The Pacific Whale Foundation’s World Whale Day & Parade of Whales appears to be up in the air after the nonprofit organization announced to supporters via email that it would not be hosting the event in February.

The foundation emailed supporters Monday that it would “not be hosting the parade or the all-day festivities” at Kalama Park. Between 17,000 and 20,000 people attend the annual event. It is the highlight of the foundation’s Maui Whale Festival — a series of events throughout February that celebrate the humpback whales that migrate to Maui every winter.

“Since 1980, we have presented the Maui Whale Festival as part of our mission to protect the oceans and marine wildlife through research, conservation and public education,” the email states. “Our goal is not only to build awareness, but also commitment and action as a result.

“This is why Maui Whale Festival 2018 will offer enhanced educational components, more targeted outreach, and better opportunities for meaningful engagement and activism.”

Communications Manager Alison Stewart said Friday that she could not confirm whether the foundation would be hosting the event or not. She said officials are still reformatting events and finalizing the schedule.

Stewart said she expects a full list of events to be announced in mid-November.

“I personally can’t really comment on that,” she said of whale day plans. “We’re still in the process of finalizing it. The message that went out was geared toward members asking about what’s already been planned because they’re making trips to the island. We didn’t make a formal announcement for what’s going to be on the agenda.

“I don’t think anyone is taking it over, but I can’t say with finality what’s going to take place.”

The whale day and parade is one of the four largest single-day events on the island, and losing it would be a blow to local businesses, Maui County Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen said. Maui’s other three large events are Fourth of July, Halloween in Lahaina and the Maui Marathon.

“We are very sorry to hear that Pacific Whale Foundation will no longer be able to put this event on, and we are hopeful there may be another community organization or multiple organizations that will step up to continue this great tradition,” she said.

Nearly 20 food vendors and over 100 Made on Maui crafters, local service vendors and entrepreneurs participated in the 2016 event, according to an Office of Economic Development report. Made on Maui crafters reported gross individual earnings of more than $1,500, with one reporting over $7,500.

The event appears to attract a large number of Mainland and international visitors, according to the report. Of the 17,500 attendees at the 2016 event, 39 percent were U.S. visitors and 16 percent were international visitors.

Rasmussen said that the event may have become too much for the foundation to host. She said that the nonprofit “really did not expect a lot from other sources” and only applied for a grant once in her six years with the Office of Economic Development.

“It was $15,000, which is relatively small to help put that event on,” she said of the 2016 grant. “From what I know, it had gotten so big and was a huge stretch for their capacity. It was possibly a monetary drain rather than a monetary gain.”

Stewart said that the event began as a barbecue picnic at a park and grew over the years. She said it has gone through various iterations, with the parade introduced sometime in the 1990s.

“We’ve noticed every year that it’s grown in not just the numbers, but what’s available as well as the time and resources to plan the event,” she said.

The foundation reports spending $225,000 annually to host seven whale festival events, including the whale day and parade. The other events are: Run and Walk for the Whales, World Whale Day Online Auction, Weekend with the Experts, Wild and Wonderful Whale Regatta and the Great Whale Count.

There are reports of residents trying to organize the event in the wake of the foundation’s email, with some recruiting local businesses as sponsors. Rasmussen said it is not impossible for another group to pick up the event, but “raising enough money to actually pull it off would be quite difficult.”

She estimated it would take at least $50,000.

“I think they’re probably too late to pull off all the logistics in time and also pull together funding,” she said. “If they started writing grants now for next winter then I think they could absolutely do it.”

Rasmussen said organizers of Maui’s three other biggest single-day events take only a break of a couple weeks before planning the next one. She said the Made in Maui County Festival, which her office presents alongside the Maui Chamber of Commerce, takes only a month off before starting up again.

“I know the Kihei community loves (the whale day) event . . . and I know it’s difficult to let go of it,” she said. “But for all the events we do fund out of this office, I would highly recommend everybody take a breath and get the proper organization and planning rather than do a halfway event in such a short amount of time.”

For information on the 2018 Maui Whale Festival and list of events, visit

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at