Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary - 45 Ton Talks

For years we had been passing The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (wow, that's a mouthful!) on South Kihei Road, and until today I had never stopped to see what it was all about. Shame on me!!! Robyn Walters, who happens to be a neighbor or ours, was today's presenter for the talk.  She welcomed us in Hawaiian, and then asked if we minded if she spoke English for the rest of the presentation. Nobody objected.

Robyn emphasized that the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is not the Pacific Whale Foundation as many people think, even though they work together at some levels.  The  main goals of the Sanctuary are education, outreach and resource protection and volunteers help with the various programs.  While on Trilogy's Blue Aina Reef Clean Up cruise in early February, I had already met volunteers, Jeep and Flo, who were on board to collect water samples for the water quality control, as well as to do counts of the various fish on that particualar reef.
Baleen in the foreground and mother and baby whale models behind
Robyn's talk was most informative and a big screen slide show, with some movies interjected, was a fantastic visual aid. She showed us some actual baleen from a humpback whale and explained how it filtered out the krill and other small fish that the whales eat while in Alaska, their summer feeding grounds. She also passed around a little jar of krill for us to look at. It was pretty unbelievable when we saw a photo of a whale with its jaw almost dislocated to take in food. They can ingest a staggering 30,000 gallons of water (the size of a backyard swimming pool) before the food is filtered through the baleen.

It never fails to astonish me that the humpback whales are in a state of starvation during the winter months they spend in Hawaii. No wonder they have so much blubber. We also learned that females are larger than the males because not only do they carry a calf that weighs 1 ton at birth, but they produce over 80 gallons of milk per day.  That is quite a lot of weight to be carrying around! Also when they are nursing they lose a lot of their body fat so it is necessary for them to be very heavy to begin with.

During the talk, Robyn threw out many whale related words such as Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), Nares (nostrils), Balaenopteridae (our whales), tubercles (little fist sized bumps on the whale's flippers), caudel peduncle (the part of the whale's body to which the caudel or tail fin is attached) and more. I guess we all went home a little smarter!  There were some amazing photos of tails, spyhops, breaches and fin slaps, mostly taken by volunteers, and at the end there was a video showing a whale that was tangled up in fishing line, being rescued. Robyn has a wonderful sense of humor and a great way of presenting. You can tell she loves sharing information and educating people about the humpback whales. As a former teacher, I think I am qualified to give her top marks!! If it is your first time in Maui you may want to attend a 45 ton talk and learn about these amazing mammals before going on a whale watch.

The sanctuary always welcomes volunteers and they even have training sessions at various times of the year.
There are many ways a volunteer can help including, going into the schools and educating children about whales, giving talks as Robyn did today, speaking in the education centre, doing water quality testing, counting fish, whales and other marine life and more. Read about 10 things we can all do to help protect our ocean resources.  The organization also does outreach programs at various hotels and other locations such as the Maui Ocean Centre.

After the talk I looked around the Education Centre, where there are many displays and also lectures and workshops at various times.
There were many interesting displays to look at

A display about the Sea Turtles found on Maui

During whale season the 45 ton talks are on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 11:00 AM and on Thursday evenings at 7:00 PM.  In the off season the talks are just in the mornings.

If you go to the west side over in Kaanapali, there are also talks at the Whaler's Village every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, twice a day at 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM.

For more information about this amazing organization visit the website of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. There is a calendar of events there and lots of great information.

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