Summer break may be finished, but Ocean Camp memories gust thicker than my Oklahoma accent. As I plug away behind my computer reconciling administrative tasks and reacquainting myself with current events, I can easily become discouraged with the empty nest syndrome of a quieter classroom and the multitude of unjust issues impacting our precious marine life. Yet every climb down the stairs in our office confronts me with the reason why I do what I do. Tacked on an otherwise barren, white wall is a sign that speaks volumes above the noisy staircase it decorates. The artistically rendered petition reads, “Save Lolita” referring to a captive orca. This project is a representation of the many efforts that result from our educational program Ocean Camp.
As a part of our education efforts, every whale season we host numerous school groups participating in our Keiki (Hawaiian for “children”) Whalewatch program. Last week we concluded this season’s program with 1,518 children now having more knowledge about humpback whales.
Pacific Whale Foundation’s Keiki Whalewatch program is offered to create an impactful and interactive learning experience for our future generation. It is evident that many children who attend our program have yet to observe a humpback whale. After greeting the children, educators often ask the group, “who has never seen a whale?” Each time, several mini hands launch towards the sky in eager anticipation of the near adventure that will soon change that response. Designed so that children preschool through high school can experience these majestic animals in their natural habitat, Keiki Whalewatches allow children to connect with our marine environment, and for many, to see a whale for the very first time.
Thirty five years ago, Pacific Whale Foundation was founded with the primary goal of saving the humpback whales, which were dangerously close to extinction in 1980. Now, our mission is to protect our oceans through science and advocacy. In our 35 years as an organization, we’re proud to have had ocean conservation victories on behalf of the whales.
A few highlights from years past include stopping the operation of a high speed ferry through calving grounds, banning plastic bags in Maui County and banning smoking and tobacco use at Maui County beaches and parks, banning the display of captive cetaceans in Maui County, and helping to designate the false killer whale as an endangered species. Learn more here.
However, humpback whales are not “out of the woods” yet. Humpback whales are still on the endangered species list and still have many threats facing them. At the top of the food chain, whales have an important role in the overall health of the ocean. Though whale protections and public awareness of the inhumaneness of whaling have improved, unfortunately seven out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable, even after decades of protection. What are threats to whales and how can we help save them?
During Maui’s whale season, from December 15th to April 15th, our trained Naturalists will be stationed at key points along Maui’s coast to help you locate and learn about whales from shore.
Visit all four whale information stations on Maui and receive a free prize when you bring your stamped “Trail of the Whale” certificate to our Ocean Store at 612 Front St. in Lahaina or our other Ocean Store in Ma’alaea Harbor. You can view our google map for the locations of our four information stations that make up the “Trail of the Whale.”
To get started, print out a copy of the certificate, or pick up your certificate at any point along the “Trail of the Whale” or from our Pacific Whale Foundation Ocean Stores. Our whale info stations are free to the public and part of our yearly Maui Whale Festival activities.
Maui truly is blessed in being surrounded by an underwater wonderland. In addition to hosting one of the largest concentrations of humpback whales during their birthing season in the world, we are also lucky to have the chance to see other graceful, unique denizens of the deep, such as monk seals, several species of sharks and even manta rays.
Maui is one of a few places in the entire world with a resident population of manta rays. Olowalu Reef, off of West Maui, is home to an estimated 350 resident reef manta rays. In nearshore reef locations, manta rays congregate around “cleaning stations”, where Hawaiian cleaner wrasse eat parasites of the skin of a manta ray. Manta rays are also thought to breed in the shallow coral reef habitat.
Unfortunately, both species of manta ray (Manta birostris and Manta alfredi) are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Manta rays are hunted in some countries for their skin, their fins (for the shark fin soup trade) and for their gill rakers, which are used in some Chinese medicines. Since manta rays mature slowly and have few pups, they are especially susceptible to fishing pressures. Manta rays around Maui have also been spotted entangled in fishing line and some have even lost part of their fins due to this marine debris. Learn more from HAMER.
Each winter, an estimated 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to Hawai’i to mate and give birth. In Hawai’i, humpback whales are engaged in important social and behavioral activities. Approaching whales too close or fast may disrupt these behaviors and cause unnecessary stress to the animals.
In order to promote responsible whalewatching, Pacific Whale Foundation developed the “Be Whale Aware” guidelines. These guidelines build on current federal and state regulations, as well as scientific research.