Each year, around 2,000 whales spend the winter months in the warm, tranquil waters around the Hawaiian Islands, with the majority of those taking up residence around Maui. Watching the mothers and calves frolicking offshore as they breach and tail-slap is a favorite pastime of locals and visitors alike. Attracted by the warm, calm waters, the magnificent creatures spend November through May mating, calving, and nursing their babies around the Hawaiian islands.
The whales that winter in Hawaii are Humpbacks, and they make the long, 5,000 mile roundtrip trek annually from the arctic waters around Alaska. Adult humpbacks reach an average length of 48-62 foot (to put it in perspective, that’s a bit longer than a city bus) and weigh up to 40 tons, with the heart alone weighing around 430 pounds. They feed during the summer, in polar waters, and then migrate here in the winter months to breed and have their babies. They fast during this time, living off of their fat reserves until they head back to their summer feeding grounds. During their feeding months, they eat an average of 5,500 pounds of small fish and plankton each day. Their tongues are about the size of a VW bug, however the opening at the back of their throat is just a little larger than an orange, which is why they eat only small fish and crustaceans.
Much of Maui’s long history with whales is concentrated in the small town of Lahaina. Located just north of Lahaina on Maui’s northwestern shore, The Whalers Village Museum provides a colorful description of the town’s history and the relationship between the island the whales, both now and then. Lahaina used to be a bustling whaling town, and the fascinating stories told at the museum provide a unique glimpse at the lives of the whaler and the prey.
Featuring a wealth of artifacts and historical items from Lahain’s whaling days, the museum takes visitors on a journey through the dangerous and exhausting work of a whaler. A collection of writings gathered from letters and other documents provide a fascinating glimpse at the daily drudgery, thrill, and danger that was life on a whaling ship.
The museum is also home to a huge display of beautiful scrimshaw (drawings carved on whale teeth).
From the museum’s bridge, visitors have a clear view of the ‘Au ‘Au Channel, which is one of the busiest humpback whale breeding and calving areas of the North Pacific. This protected area was named a National Marine Sanctuary by Congress in 1992, and if you visit the museum during the winter months you may catch a glimpse of whales enjoying the peace and quiet. ‘Au ‘Au means “take a bath” in Hawaiian, and it is an apt description of the tranquil water.
Visit the Whalers Village Museum
Hours: Monday – Sunday 10am to 4pm
Cost: Adult: $3, Senior: $2, Child: $1
Address: 2435 Kaanapali Pkwy, Lahaina, HI 96761
Directions: From Kahului Airport, take HI-30 S toward Lahaina. Turn left onto Ka’anapali Parkway, and then left into the Whalers Village parking lot. Parking is validated with a minimum $6 purchase at any of the Whalers Village stores (or two adult tickets at the museum).