A Maui Eco-Primer



On this, my first trip to Maui I had visions of a tropical paradise. These visions were tempered with the understanding a once pristine environment has experienced drastic changes ever since the Polynesians arrived some 1,500 years ago. What the Polynesians did to alter the flora and fauna was nothing compared to what happened since white men arrived. Never-the-less, I’d heard enough to want to see the good and bad of this gorgeous island. Why not go and see for myself while leaving the East Coast winter?

My wife and I had seven full days and a rental car to explore Maui. For a small island, we were surprised by the amount of traffic between Kahului and Lahaina. It turns out plenty of locals and visitor travel this route daily. The weather upon arrival and the next day surprised us with colder temperatures than we expected. At 67 degrees Fahrenheit and winds of 15-20 miles per hour, we needed a light jacket. I had read about the rare snowstorm that blanketed Mount Haleakalā on President’s Day this year and last, but didn’t expect it to be so chilly for our trip. Global Warming is a fickle demon.

To get a wildlife lesson, touring the Maui Ocean Center was on our list. The Sphere is the aquarium’s new 3D motion picture theater showing a 15-minute movie of humpback whales. Witnessing real-life film of whales swimming all around us in 3D fashion was incredible. The Sphere is 52 feet across, about the same length of a mature humpback, and does justice to the magnificent singer of the sea. As part of the show, humpbacks are heard in a variety of intonations. The base notes reverberate through the audience like a rock concert. All of those attending this 3-experience seemed to love it. The 3D film was so realistic I saw people reach up as if to touch the whales swimming by.

Before seeing the film, we were persuaded to spend time at the humpback whale exhibit in the waiting area. There we learned the North Pacific Humpback whale population has grown from some 6,000 in 1993 to around 21,000 currently. A staff member of Maui Ocean Center was present to answer any questions.

He told us about the whale rescue group that risks life and limb to get whales untangled from fishing nets, ropes, and cables humpbacks can encounter. We were shown a heavy cable that was removed from an adult humpback in Hawaiian waters and asked to lift the two-foot section. We were surprised at the weight the poor whale carried. This substantial cable was over 100 feet long and thought to have been dragged from Alaska to Hawaii, a staggering distance. During our visit, we saw humpback whales several times per day from the shoreline. At sunset one night we witnessed several whales jumping and splashing in the distance. With some 10,000 whales in Hawaiian waters during winter, Maui is a great place to view them.

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