Making Memories on Maui

A whale watch to remember, long after the photos fade By: Deanna Ting
Humpback whale-watching season begins in mid-December and lasts through mid-April // © 2010 Teralani Sailing Adventures
Humpback whale-watching season begins in mid-December and lasts through mid-April // © 2010 Teralani Sailing Adventures

The Details

Teralani Sailing Adventures
808-661-1230
www.teralani.net

Whale-watching season starts in mid-December and ends in mid-April, with guaranteed whale watches taking place from the beginning of January through the end of March.

Rates start at $59 per adult, $49 for teens (ages 13-20) and $39 per child (ages 5-12). Children ages 5 and under are free. Commission is available.
Error 99: As soon as I saw those words flash onto the screen of my not-yet-one-year-old digital Canon SLR camera, I began to panic. I tried everything I could think of — I switched batteries, I switched memory cards, I flipped the on/off switch repeatedly — but to no avail. Oh no, I thought. Is my camera broken?

This could not have happened at a less opportune time. I was out in the middle of the ocean, perched near the bow of a catamaran, on a whale watching tour with Teralani Sailing Adventures. For me, the very purpose of my trip was to look for breaching humpback whales, capture their images on my memory card and download them into my photo collection. 

The trip began earlier that day around 9:45 a.m., when we gathered on the shores of Maui’s Kaanapali Beach near The Westin Maui Resort & Spa. To get to our catamaran, we took turns ferrying out to sea by zodiac, to avoid damaging the boat in the high surf. After our group of about 49 people had settled onto the boat, captain Bud called us toward the stern where he gave us a brief, to-the-point talk regarding ship safety and onboard conduct.

That was nearly two hours ago. Along the way, as we headed north to the Pailolo Channel, we had already spotted a number of whales, their dorsal fins slicing through the crystal-blue ocean waters with ease. At first, those fins didn’t look like much — just tiny little triangle-shaped waves. But, before we knew it, they came closer and more visible, much to the delight of our camera-happy tour group.

Throughout our sail, the majority of sounds I heard were those of camera shutters and billowing sea breezes. Occasionally, I heard ooohs, aaahs and yelps, too. Those sounds, we were informed by the crew, would attract the whales to our catamaran. Our group was eagerly and enthusiastically vociferous in an attempt to announce ourselves to the families of whales surrounding us.

The channel in which our catamaran was sailing is a favorite among the Hawaiian humpback whales because of its shallow and warm waters. One of the crew, Kevin, explained to us how the whales came back home to Hawaii every winter to give birth to their young and rear them before heading back north toward the much colder waters surrounding Alaska. I would rather spend my winters in Hawaii, too, I thought, if I had a choice in the matter.
Even so, most of my thoughts drifted toward the matter at hand — fixing my seemingly broken camera. No matter what I tried, nothing seemed to be working.

I tried to remain optimistic. I was spending my morning on Maui, on the water, in the company of a great group of fellow travelers. Many of us were enjoying the complimentary beverages and snacks of fresh fruit and pastries, just taking in the whole experience.  

I also took solace in the fact that, just 10 minutes or so before my camera suffered its technical meltdown, I was able to capture images of a breaching baby whale that was hundreds of yards away from our ship. (Catamarans are required by law to stay at least 100 yards away from the whales, a rule that our captain made sure to abide by.)

Taking those snapshots was, indeed, the highlight of my Teralani tour. I’d been on whale watches before but had never actually seen a whale in the process. This time, however, I not only saw one — I saw many — but I also saw one engaged in one of nature’s most miraculously simple gestures — taking a breath.

Now, I know what to look for when a whale breach is imminent, thanks to the insightful advice given to us by the onboard marine naturalist. The color of the water surrounding the whale’s fins changes to a vivid turquoise and you can actually see the bubbles rising to the ocean’s surface. Before you know it, the whale leaps upward, and almost seems to pause for a moment in the air, before falling once again into the water with a splash. It was an amazing sight to experience.

While I’m ever grateful for being able to take photos of this whale breach before my camera effectively went kaput, I know those images are something that won’t ever be erased or deleted from my own personal memories. 
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