Dolphin Daze

PWF gives clients a close encounter

By: Dawna L. Robertson

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 environmental focus.

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 us.

“Too much action in the water,” reported PWF’s An-drew Weight.

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 added.

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 water.”

The Details

Pacific Whale Foundation

Vessel: 50-foot sailing catamaran with freshwater shower and two marine heads

Crew: Certified marine naturalists with CPR, first-aid
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.