Manutea is the Tahitian word for “white bird.” The day I sailed
on Pacific Whale Foundation’s (PWF) magnificent 50-foot catamaran,
I was convinced the moniker meant dolphin magnet. Little did I know
when we departed Lahaina Harbor that our group was in for much more
than a typical cruise.
The foundation had recently launched its Lanai Dolphin Champagne
Sail Eco-Adventure to the rugged southwestern coast of Lanai, a
wildlife habitat celebrated for its outstanding snorkeling and
resident pod of some 200 spinner dolphins. Good thing this was a
champagne trek. We would certainly find much to toast.
According to the crew, the captain and a trio of marine
naturalists, they encounter these marvelous mammals most sailing
days. This, however, would end up as one of those banner outings
they are blessed by but a few times each year.
Manutea is a sweet ride. It accommodates with bench seating on
the bow and along the stern, plus twin trampolines on the box for
sunbathing. Those that are sun shy can soak in the scenery from the
shaded cabin with refreshment bar.
As we headed across the channel, PWF’s Timothy Bryan prepped
passengers on safety measures and what to expect during our
nautical jaunt. PWF monitors conditions before each tour to see
where action most likely awaits. Bryan briefed us on what we’d
encounter, how to respect the bay and the scoop on PWF and its
Our Dolphin 101 class was packed with details on bottlenose and
spotted varieties. But the crux was on the show-stealing spinners.
Extremely social and acrobatic, these fun-lovers leap from the
ocean and whirl through the air. They’re also intelligent and even
sensitive. Bryan advised us to applaud and whoop if they chose our
companionship that day. They did and we did. It worked.
This quickly became one of the most magical water days I’ve
experienced. The conditions were calm, the sun was shining and the
ride was smooth.
At first, a dolphin duo blazed alongside the boat. Graceful and
quick, they seemed to react positively to our cheers.
“They sense good energy,” noted PWF’s Tambra White. “They want
to have fun and love to react.”
Before we made Manele Bay, more dolphins joined to guide us
toward our destination. The more we expressed our joy, the more
they reacted with synchronized swimming and spinning.
Bryan said that studies are inconclusive on why the dolphins
respond the way they do.
“We know they’re sensitive to sound. So my theory is that since
they can hear us, they’re probably interested in something that’s
different from their routine,” he said.
When Manutea finally reached the bay, the pod skipped out on
“Too much action in the water,” reported PWF’s An-drew
He recommended we enter the bay calmly, move smoothly and never
chase a dolphin swimming near us.
After gearing up, I slid into the water. Weight (now pulling
lifeguard duty in a kayak) told me to look below. Sure enough, part
of the pod was gliding some 12 to 15 feet beneath me. I could hear
their subtle whistle.
“They’re resting,” Weight explained. “They’re in an alpha state
where they actually shut down half their brain to rest.”
Soon, the semi-snoozing spinners gently slipped away. Pumped
with enthusiasm, I swam toward the rocky coast to join others for
some serious snorkeling.
Manele Bay is brimming with colorful marine life. The dazzling
reef is vibrant and varied. Meandering throughout the rich coral
colonies were literally thousands of fluorescent tropical fish.
This trip wasn’t just about seeing. It was about recognizing and
understanding what I was seeing all thanks to PWF’s naturalists and
their thorough orientation.
Back onboard, lunch was grilling. Between bites, passengers
shared their experiences. It was a varied group kids to seniors,
families to singles. White joined us to explain more about the
mammals we’d encountered.
“The dolphins are like children,” she said. “They get jazzed and
they get excited. They play, mate, eat and act like children. They
actually spend 40 percent of their time touching.”
The foundation is an advocate of keeping whales and dolphins in
their natural habitat. In fact, the organization helped institute a
ban on displaying these creatures in captivity in Maui County.
“When you see these dolphins in the wild and learn about
conservation, it makes you understand it all so much better,” White
When I asked her about the human aspect of her job, she noted
how nature provides such a remarkable experience.
“Every day, someone is snorkeling for the first time,” White
said. “And you can bet they’ll be the last one out of the
Pacific Whale Foundation
Vessel: 50-foot sailing catamaran with freshwater
shower and two marine heads
Crew: Certified marine naturalists with CPR,
and lifeguard credentials
Includes: Tropical continental breakfast with
fresh-baked pastries, gourmet
barbecue lunch with desserts, ice-cold beverages, champagne, all
snorkel gear (including prescription masks), expert instruction,
floatation devices, Junior Naturalist Program for kids,
free marine poster and wild dolphin guide.
Rates: Adults - $106.20;
children 3 to 12 - $52.59; children 2 and under - free
Profile: Pacific Whale Foundation is Hawaii’s
oldest and largest nonprofit organized operator devoted to
protecting the ocean environment. PWF’s goal is to educate, protect
and share marine wonders through programs, guides and articles.
Membership is available by
visiting the foundation’s Web site. PWF also operates seasonal
whale watches, sunset and cocktail dinner cruises, and
eco-adventures to Molokini and Turtle Arches.