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Whale Watching Around The World Part 11

Updated on February 25, 2010

7. Maui, Hawaii

Hawaii's most famous visitors, more than 3,000 humpback whales, return every winter for much the same reasons other visitors come, rest, recreation and romance. Although whales can be spotted from the shores of every island from November until April, and each major island mounts whale-watching expeditions, they are most abundant in the deep, sheltered waters of the Au'au channel between Maui and Molokai, and Maui claims the largest whale-watching fleet in its two harbors, Lahaina and Maalaea.

Lured by Song

Humpbacks are the most commonly encountered whale species in Hawaiian waters. Of all the fascinating things about humpbacks, their easily recognized knobby heads, enormous flukes with individual markings, their lack of hostility toward humans, and their marine acrobatics, the most remarkable is their song. They hang suspended, motionless, while they sing, and the sound carries for miles. Human swimmers can hear it. On still Maui mornings, even people on shore claim to have heard the haunting melodic cries and moans. Each whale sings the same song, which changes slowly but dramatically over the course of a season. Every year the whales compose a new song, improvising on the old, another indication of their uncanny intelligence. These almost mystic melodies add immeasurably to the enchantment of the humpback whale. To local people, the humpbacks are faithful old friends, returning every year from their summer feeding grounds in polar waters.

Cetacean Domain

Because humpbacks are an endangered species, and Hawaiian waters have been officially declared the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, boats must approach no closer than 100 yards. The whales, however, acknowledge no sovereignty but their own and surface wherever they wish, sometimes quite close to passing boats.

Although humpbacks are the stars of Hawaii's aquatic show, island waters are home to substantial populations of other cetaceans. False killer whales, pygmy killer whales, melon-headed whales, beaked whales, and pilot whales are here in abundance. The most common is the black pilot whale, with its round bulbous head. Pilot whales travel in pods of 20 to 40 individuals and are most often seen off the Kona Coast of the Big Island and in the Alenuihaha Channel between the Big Island and Maui.

Four species of dolphin, a small variety of toothed whale, inhabit island waters: bottlenose, rough-toothed, spotted, and spinner. Big sea turtles can ve seen swimming languorously just beneath the waves. And schools of flying fish often zoom from the water in a flurry of beating fins and flashing silver.

Explorations on Land

The whale experience doesn't quit when the cruise is over. Maui is whale immersion. The Carthaginian, an impressive old brig berthed in front of the suitably tawdry Pioneer Inn, is the icon of Lahaina's seagoing heritage. Almost a century old, this fully rigged 97-foot-long ship with its 87-foot-high main mast groans and strains against its mooring lines as if remembering the open ocean. In exhibits and films aboard ship, it documents the history of whaling in Hawaii and celebrates the life of whales. Below decks, visitors can dial a whale and hear a recording of its eerily haunting song.

Continued In Whale Watching Around The World Part 12

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