Tons of fun!

February breaches new heights with humpback whale activities

A whale propels itself out of the water in front of a Pacific Whale Foundation vessel. -- Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation

Landlubbers and ocean goers alike will find plenty of lively celebrations in honor of our famed mammalian sea visitors

Humpback whales swimming in Maui waters are far from singing “The Krill Is Gone” blues.

After migrating thousands of miles from their feeding grounds in the northern Pacific where they fill their behemoth baleen bellies with krill, plankton and other tiny crustaceans and fish, they appear perfectly happy here fasting and enjoying other pursuits.

They wave “aloha” to boatloads of passengers by slapping their pectoral fins on the surface, lob tail fins, or flukes, like seagoing shaka signs before diving, spout fountains of water like giants uncorking bottles of champagne, and they breach. Oh, do they breach — rocketing up to 40-tons of blubbery beauty out of the water in full-body acrobatics.

Female cows come here to give birth and nurse and nurture their calves. Male escorts compete for the cows’ attention with showy and often aggressive displays of bravado as part of mating rituals.

A spectator at the Great Whale Count -- Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation

The males also sing — in an evolving ocean opus of squeaks, clicks and groans that resound from the depths of their souls and the sea floor with music. Carrying for miles, it may be heard by other pods. Even the late, great B.B. King, immortalizer of “The Thrill is Gone,” would have been impressed.

While the humpbacks first begin to arrive here in late fall and start to depart in the spring, now through February is the height of Maui’s season for sightings.

In celebration, nonprofits such as the Pacific Whale Foundation will host events around the island. Its month-long Maui Whale Festival is chock full of activities, kicking off with the Run & Walk for the Whales at 7 a.m. Saturday at Maalaea Harbor.

The 39th annual Maui Whale Festival events pay tribute to PWF’s founder Greg Kaufman, who passed away last February. His legacy lives on with the foundation’s international works.

“The level of energy as well as inspiration and excitement surrounding this month-long event each year never ceases to enchant me,” says the foundation’s Acting Executive Director, Kristie Wrigglesworth. “When Greg first launched this experience in 1980 as a way to share our common voice in support of ocean protection and conservation, I’m not sure he realized the success it was headed for. I feel proud to honor his legacy by continuing the festival and by ensuring that it engages residents and visitors in our mission work.”

Breaching -- Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation

When PWF was founded, there were only an estimated 1,400 humpback whales in the North Pacific region. Now there are 21,000 of these gentle giants, and in 2016, they were officially removed from the endangered species list. Half of these travel to Hawaii from Alaskan waters each year.

Athletic types will want to sign up for the Run & Walk for the Whales to get sightings of these creatures in one of Maui’s largest and most scenic sporting events. A variety of courses will allow more levels of participation.

Following the run/walk, PWF will present a courtyard celebration at Maui Harbor Shops. Reggae Ambassador Marty Dread will get the crowd going with songs by Bob Marley and the Whalers, er, Wailers, and breakfast will be served and prizes given away.

“This is an event I look forward to each year,” says Jim Lynch, race co-director of the Maui Marathon and vice president of Valley Isle Road Runners. “To support a great nonprofit such as Pacific Whale Foundation is vital. The Run & Walk for Whales has been a consistent run for years and well participated by locals and visitors.”

Also on Saturday, everyone may buy into the Wild & Wonderful Whale Regatta in Maalaea. Like a “rubber ducky” race, it features miniature whales on a water course. Winners will receive airfare to a number of locations –and you need not be present to win.

More breaching -- Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation

“And of course, go on one of the PWF cruises. Worth every penny,” adds Lynch. “The crew is friendly and amazing. And this time of the year, you WILL see whales!”

Reggae Ambassador Dread will get you singing “Red, Red Wine” and tapping blue-suede slippahs to Rastafarian versions of Elvis on his Island Rhythms Cruises Fridays out of Maalaea Harbor and Saturdays departing from Lahaina.

Two special Maui Whale Festival Concert Cruises will feature John Cruz Feb. 16 from Lahaina Harbor, and for keiki, the Banana Slug String Band Feb. 23 launching out of Maalaea.

World Whale Film Festival will loom large at Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku at 5 p.m. Feb. 8. Besides movies, you can meet shark conservationist Madison Stewart, big-wave surfer Paige Alms, champion windsurfer Sarah Hauser and many more. Admission is $10 per person. Famed National Spearfishing Champion Kimi Werner emcees.

“It’s a great honor to return to my home island of Maui to be able to help host this event,” Werner says. “What drives me to it the most is that it’s not a film festival based purely on ocean conservation and some of the issues that the oceans are facing; the goal is not just to point out the problems, but to lead people with a positive message of hope and a call to action for how we can help our seas.”

Reggae Ambassador Marty Dread (Carla Tracy photo)

Other PWF activities include Kihei Fourth Friday Celebrates Maui Whale Festival at 6 p.m. Feb. 22 at Azeka Shopping Center in Kihei. Thousands of people are expected. Stay tuned for updates. The next Great Whale Counts are Feb. 23 and March 30. Volunteers are requested.

* For more details: Visit www.pacificwhale.org.

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Dive deep into these cool facts on humpback whales

• Under water: Adult humpbacks can hold their breath for up to 40 minutes, while newborn calves must surface every five minutes.

And a double whammy of a breach -- Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation

• What’s in a name: Humpback comes from the distinctive hump on the whale’s back, but the scientific name Megaptera, means “big winged” and refers to its long pectoral fins.

• The size: An adult humpback weighs up to 40 tons, the size of 600 humans or 11 elephants. Females can extend to over 50 feet. Males can be as much as 10 feet shorter than females.

• Whale song: Only males vocalize. Their original sounds can carry up to 20 miles away.

• Longevity: Humpbacks live about 50 years and some age up to 100 years.

• Cows and calves: Gestation time is 11 months. Calves stay with their mothers for one year.

— National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Run & Walk For Whales is a scenic endeavor set for Saturday. -- Photo courtesy Pacific Whale Foundation


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