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Each year from November to May, throngs of visitors head to Maui to see whales, whether during boat tours or from the shore. And now, thanks to a one-of-a-kind addition to Maui Ocean Center, clients can witness close-up, underwater views of the mammoth marine mammals any time of year.
Humpbacks of Hawaii, which debuted earlier this year, offers twofold appeal. Along with an impressive exhibit hall of hands-on displays, it features a sphere with a 120-seat dome theater, where clients don 3D glasses and watch life-size footage of whales in Maui’s waters.
A recent visit to the attraction brought me face-to-face with the aquatic phenomena and gave me a new understanding of — and respect for — their place in the sea.
“This truly is an experience that is too large for a tank,” said Tapani Vuori, general manager for Maui Ocean Center. “It is unlike anything else that people have experienced before.”
Clients should allow plenty of time to peruse the exhibit hall, a joint project between local artists, marine mammal specialists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and related organizations. There, clever presentations and interactive learning stations share stories of all things cetacean.
From its touch screens to its floor markers, the exhibit taught me how whales are always on the move. I followed their migration routes, first around the globe, and then in Hawaii. At a topographic, scale model of the islands of Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe, projected patterns showed me exactly where the whales were in real time.
The displays have been designed to lure kids as well as adults, with lots of eye-level graphics to keep youngsters engaged. During my visit, for instance, I noticed several children playing with a keyboard, where they created their own whale songs. Others tapped screens or studied drawings to learn about whale habits, from their breaching and breathing techniques to their fascinating social behaviors.
The second half of the experience takes place in the dome theater, which presents a movie every 30 minutes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The concrete sphere, which measures 58 feet in diameter, is the first of its kind in Hawaii. Its cinematic spectacle — which was filmed over two years in the waters around Maui — takes the concept of whale watching to another level, even for seasoned island visitors.
As the lights dimmed, jaws dropped. Multiple laser projectors transmitted 4K imagery onto the 25-foot convex screen, while a 7.1 surround-sound acoustical system evoked haunting audio of whale interactions and ocean noises. Whales seemed to swim right off the screen. It made me feel as if I were deep under the ocean’s surface becoming one with the pod; I was then thrilled by the vision of a majestic breach.
Vuori says he hopes travel advisors will recognize Humpbacks of Hawaii as a novel option for client bookings.
“We are very open to any creative sales opportunities, including private showings, corporate and group events and collaborative packages,” he said. “We want to inspire people to love and protect the ocean marine environment.”
Admission to the exhibit and dome theater is included in the Aquarium Plus package, which costs $35 per adult and $25 per child ages 4 to 12.
The DetailsMaui Ocean Centerwww.mauioceancenter.com