Whale Tales – Stories from Across the Sea by a PWF Naturalist

Maui is certainly one of the most spectacular places in the world to watch humpback whales in their breeding grounds. But when those of us in Hawaii bid these animals aloha in the spring as they journey north to their feeding grounds, a few PWF naturalists follow suit and head to other parts of the world to experience a summer whale season and the different types of wildlife, and behaviors, that entails. May through September is the prime time to watch humpbacks and other migratory whales in their feeding grounds up north – Alaska and the upper coastlines of the west and eastern U.S. are a few of our favorite options.

Many of our amazing naturalists stay in Maui year round (it is, after all, hard to find a reason to leave); there’s so much to see and do during the summer in Maui, and Pacific Whale Foundation’s snorkel and dolphin watch cruises offer visitors an exciting chance to see many beautiful marine creatures that call Maui home besides our winter whale visitors. Others of us take this time to journey abroad, or across the U.S., for different eco-tourism jobs and have ended up in Massachusetts, or Alaska, or California, or Washington. In this post, I want to highlight my summer experiences away from Maui, and in future posts I plan to talk with other naturalists who have also moved away to work in the conservation field.

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Naturalist Spotlight: Maddie Buresh

“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”

We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?

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Marine Biologist & Mai Tai Maker: My Life as a PWF Marine Naturalist

I can’t count the number of times a guest on our boat will come up to me, enthusiastically gushing “You have the most amazing job!” or “Wow, what an office!” It’s true — I do have a great job and the best view at PacWhale. As ECO team members, we encounter incredible marine wildlife on a daily basis, and we are doing meaningful conservation and education work. But there’s a lot more to being a Marine Naturalist than meets the eye.

For starters … who serves up crumbly apple danishes and yummy banana bread slices for breakfast? The naturalists do! Who makes sure everyone is properly caffeinated, sun-screened, and snorkeling gear-equipped? We do! Who makes sure all questions are answered and reasonable requests fulfilled so our wonderful guests can have the best day of their vacation? Why, the naturalists of course!

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Whalewatching with “The Greatest”

Pacific Whale Foundation was founded in 1980, in Makena, Maui, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our roots are embedded in credible research studies, backed by effective education and critical conservation programs. Through the years, Pacific Whale Foundation has grown to become “the people’s whale organization.” Each year Pacific Whale Foundation takes nearly 300,000 supporters out on the water to experience whales “face-to-fluke,” or marine life “face-to-fin.” Our supporters come from all regions of the globe, and are of every race, color, creed, religion and political persuasion.

We have worked successfully to bridge the chasm of hard science by bringing scientific findings to the public to comprehend and act upon. We have engaged and enlisted the support of the public in a worthy and winnable cause: to save whales and their ocean home.

During the last three decades I have had some incredible whale experiences at Pacific Whale Foundation. People always ask me “what was the best whalewatching experience you ever had?” or “tell me about your most amazing whale experience.” Having spent thousands of hours on the ocean in the presence of whales, it really is hard to choose just one to single out as “the greatest” whale experience.

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Mugged on the first Ultimate Whalewatch of 2015

On January 13th, the research team ran the first Ultimate Whalewatch cruise of the 2014/2015 whale season. Mother Nature was on our side that day, with perfect calm weather conditions.

Over the past week or so, the research team had been sighting more and more humpback whales in Ma’alaea Bay, including mother-calf pairs, so our 30 guests were in for a good whalewatch trip on Ocean Liberty.

As expected, a few whale pods were sighted a few minutes into the trip. At a later stage, we were even spoiled for choice, with whales left, right and center. Captain Curtis decided to follow one of the competition pods that displayed a lot of surface activity, very close to Ma’alaea Harbor and Sugar Beach. That decision paid off.

Over time, the number of escorts dwindled down from five to just two. At one point, one of the adults, presumed to be the female in the original pod, approached the vessel so close that, when it exhaled, the blow hit a few passengers. The whale then slowly swam under the vessel, giving everyone on board enough time to admire the sheer size of this animal. What a great photo opportunity that was.

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