Whale watching closely watched

Katie Grove-Velasquez
Katie Grove-Velasquez
Elizabeth Wiebe
Elizabeth Wiebe

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

MAUI (KHNL) - The first Pacific Islands Regional Whale Watching Guidelines are out.

It encourages realistic expectations of seeing whales to avoid breaking rules. Changes in behavior of the whales need to be recognized.

When there's interaction, allow them to determine how close or how long you may stay around.

Finally, no boats may go further than the caution zone, which is between 300 hundred and a thousand feet.

These guidelines aim to minimize any potential negative impacts tourism activities have on whales and their environment.

On Maui, more than half of all Humpback Whales that come to Hawaii, migrate there. Whale watching is big business. In the Pacific Islands Region alone, the industry generates more than 20 million dollars each year and it's growing at a staggering rate of 45 percent annually.

That's one of the main reasons researchers and others hope these new rules will help protect this endangered mammal.

The waters off Maui is an area where you'll find the most Humpback Whales in Hawaii.

"There's a shallow water basin out here, average depth is about 350 feet," Marine naturalist Katie Grove-Velasquez said. "This seems to attract these shallow water loving animals to this particular area."

After a short presentation, we take off from Maalaea Harbor with high hopes of seeing this spectacular mammal in motion.

"Hawaii is very unique in the respect that we're the only state in the union that has breeding grounds for the humpback whales and as such we need to really work hard to preserve this area for future generations," Grove-Velasquez said.

Although sightings were rare when we went, researchers hoped people on the tour learn the importance of protecting these whales.

"I don't really think we're disrupting them, I think that they come down here from Alaska to birth their babies, it's quieter here in the bay and shallower, so their natural predators aren't after them," Tour participant Elizabeth Wiebe said.

Visitors say the best part of coming out on the tour is learning how to help the endangered Humpback Whale.

"Whale watching teaches people so many things and the more that we learn, the more we understand the better our chances of saving these animals," Grove-Velasquez said.

So that these gentle giants can be around for generations to come.

Researchers believe Maui County is also favored by more Humpback Whales because more mothers return to the place of their birth to give birth.