[ SUNDAY TRAVEL ]
Whale of aThey've starred in a lot of films, are the focus of a multimillion-dollar industry and boast more of a following in Hawaii than Julia Roberts and Russell Crowe, so it's no wonder that Maui throws a monthlong party to celebrate the humpback whales' return.
Maui hosts a monthlong festival for
humpbacks returning to isle waters
By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Spearheaded by the Pacific Whale Foundation, the Great Maui Whale Festival offers a variety of fun and educational activities throughout February, the peak of Hawaii's whale-watching season.
The event was launched in 1980 as In Celebration of Humpback Whales Day, featuring entertainment and food booths. Although its name was subsequently shortened to Whale Day, its list of offerings kept expanding.
The daylong fete expanded to Whale Week -- with a keiki carnival, parade and more -- then Whale Month, with diversions spanning a full 30 days. This year, the new name reflects the festival's ever-broadening scope.
"Humpback whales are a source of inspiration and awe for residents and visitors," says Greg Kaufman, PWF's president and founder.
"They are also a large part of our community both in economic and social terms. They are one of the unique characteristics of Maui. Nowhere else in the world can you view whales so simply and easily. Our aim is to promote understanding and appreciation of the whales and, by doing so, encourage protection of their ocean homes."
From the festival's inception, community response has been enthusiastic. Whale Day, its signature event, draws more than 7,000 people to Kalama Park, a beautiful venue that opens to fabulous views of the sea and the whales. This year, you can peruse the work of 70 local crafters; savor specialties from Roy's, Outback Steakhouse and other top Maui restaurants; and bid on golf packages, hotel stays, artwork and other valuable items at a silent auction.
Booths will dispense information about whales, the ocean and Maui's natural environment. Throughout the day there will be hula performances; live music (Hapa, Fiji and the Brothers Cazimero are among the stars who have entertained in the past); and a children's carnival, complete with face painting, games, a dunking tank and a maze.
New to the festival are seminars with a twist. "For years the Pacific Whale Foundation has offered a winter lecture series about whales and the marine environment," says Anne Rillero, PWF's director of marketing and public relations. "At a staff meeting, we came up with the idea of holding our lectures at sea, where attendees could also watch whales and enjoy the beauty of the ocean."
Doing just that, the Talks at Sea VIP Celebration Whalewatch Cruises take place on the catamaran, the Ocean Odyssey, featuring whale talks.
Profits from the Great Maui Whale Festival fund marine education opportunities for Maui's schoolchildren. Last year, largely due to the $21,000 raised at the festival, more than 12,000 youngsters, from preschool age to high school seniors, learned about Hawaii's reefs and marine life through whale watches, tide pool explorations and visits to the Maui Ocean Center. Older kids participated in career-shadowing programs, marine debris cataloging efforts, and a study of toothed whales and dolphins off Maui and Lanai shores.
During this field project, students worked alongside PWF's researchers as they learned about scientific methodology, graphing, statistics, mapping and basic ecology.
"We see this program as being doubly valuable," notes Merrill Kaufman, PWF's director of education. "First, we are gathering much-needed data about an aspect of the marine world that is little understood. Second, we are helping to create future stewards of the sea among Maui's youth.
"The students of today will become tomorrow's voters and decision-makers. As environmental issues become increasingly complex -- just think about marine debris, endangered species, global warming -- an educated populace is our best hope in saving Hawaii's precious and unique ocean environment."
Here are highlights of this year's Great Maui Whale Festival. For more information, call 879-8860 or 249-8811 on Maui. From the other islands, call toll-free 800-942-5311.
YOUR DAILY PLANNER
Feb. 3: Talks at Sea VIP Celebration Whalewatch featuring Greg Kaufman, PWF's president, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. aboard the Ocean Odyssey, which departs from Maalaea Harbor. Topic: "Amazing Whale Encounters." Costs $32 for adults, $16 children ages 4 to 12, and $22 for PWF members, including refreshments, pupu and door prizes.
Feb. 6: Whales in Wailea on Wednesdays, at the Shops at Wailea, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Learn about humpback whales, study marine artifacts and meet PWF naturalists. Free. Repeats Feb. 13, 20 and 27.
Feb. 9: 5K/10K Run for the Whales. Registration at 6 a.m.; race starts at 7 a.m. at the Maui Prince Hotel's public beach access area. Costs $20 in advance or $25 at the race (includes breakfast and a T-shirt).
Feb. 9: 2K Keiki Race for age groups 5 to 7, 8 to 10 and 11 to 12. Registration at 7:30 a.m.; race starts at 8:30 a.m. at the Maui Prince Hotel's public beach access area. $7 in advance or $10 at the race (includes breakfast).
Feb. 9: Seaside Stories, Borders Books & Music in Kahului, 11 a.m. to noon. Storytelling and craft projects for kids ages 4 to 12. Free. Repeats Feb. 16 and 23.
Feb. 10: Talks at Sea VIP Celebration Whalewatch features Dr. Dwayne Meadows, PWF's research director. Topic: "Discoveries About Maui's Toothed Whales/Dolphins." See Feb. 3 for time and prices.
Feb. 10 to 14: "Wake Up With Whales" at the oceanside path by the Outrigger Wailea Resort (meet by the telescope), 7:30 to 8 a.m. Watch whales from Wailea's shoreline with a PWF naturalist, and receive a free color whale-watch guide.
Feb. 16: Parade of Whales, South Kihei Road from the intersection of Kahele Street to Kalama Park, 9 a.m.
Feb. 16: Whale Day Celebration, Kalama Park, Kihei, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Live music, hula performances, craft fair, food booths, silent auction, keiki carnival, informational displays, Keiki Whale-a-thon and Wild and Wonderful Whale Regatta (see details below).
>> Keiki Whale-a-thon, Kalama Park, 10 a.m. Kids experience the life of a migrating whale during this one-hour obstacle course game. Different stations provide a lesson about whales and a fun activity. Prizes will be given to the first 150 participants. Free.
>> Wild and Wonderful Whale Regatta, Kalama Park, heats scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Little rubber whales "race" toward the finish line of a miniature water course. Grand prize: tickets for two between the mainland and Maui. Suggested donation of $5 per entry.
Feb. 17: Talks at Sea VIP Celebration Whalewatch features Merrill Kaufman, PWF's director of education. Topic: "Hawaiians and the Sea." See Feb. 3 for time and prices.
Feb. 23: Great Whale Count. Count whales with PWF researchers from 10 shore-based locations between Makena and Kapalua, 8 a.m. to noon.
Feb. 24: Talks at Sea VIP Celebration Whalewatch features Greg Kaufman. Topic: "Saving Whales in the New Millennium." See Feb. 3 for time and prices.
Volunteers needed for Whale Day, races, annual countThe Pacific Whale Foundation can use your kokua at three Great Maui Whale Festival events. Volunteers at the 5K/10K Run for the Whales and 2K Keiki Race on Feb. 9 will be treated to a post-race Victory Breakfast. Workers at Whale Day, Feb. 16, will receive a free Whale Day T-shirt ($17 value) after helping for three hours or more.
PWF will provide the training and materials for the Great Whale Count on Feb. 23. Last year, more than 100 volunteers recorded 952 sightings of humpbacks during the three-hour counting window.
For more information, call (808) 879-8860.
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer.