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Whale Watching in Maui

Photos by Michael Rybak

In this month’s "Talk Show," I had the pleasure of speaking with longtime marine researchers Mark and Debbie Ferrari about their work with humpback whales in the waters off the Hawaiian island of Maui. Even more pleasurable was the fact that I was in Maui to do the interview! I’ve had a longtime love affair with humpbacks since I first came eye-to-eye with one in 1988 during a whale-watching excursion on a tiny Zodiac raft. I wanted my husband to share that magnificent experience, which is what led us to meet the Ferraris at Whale Tales, an extraordinary annual event sponsored by Whale Trust, an organization founded by whale researchers to support the observation and study of humpback whales.

This year’s Whale Tales was held at one of the most beautiful hotels on Maui, the exquisite Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, a pristine enclave on the island’s northwest shore. The two-day event featured talks by some of the most knowledgeable humpback whale researchers in the world. Even better, Whale Tales also included a series of small whale watching excursions with the same researchers aboard to help us better understand what we were seeing (and hearing).

On a two-hour cruise aboard Captain Steve’s 24-passenger hard-hulled raft (who—along with other whale watch excursion operators—donated a portion of his ticket proceeds to the event), Mark Ferrari gave insight into the whale behaviors we saw unfold just yards away, such as learning that when a humpback slaps its pectoral fin on the ocean’s surface, you know it’s a female, since she uses that action to summon all available males for inspection. (Humpbacks mainly calve and mate during their winters in Maui.) We also saw the scads of skin that slough off humpbacks every time they breach—skin that Mark and his wife collect in the hopes of one day conducting a DNA study on the samples.

Jim Darling talks to whale watchers.

Jim Darling, one of the world’s foremost experts on whale songs and a Whale Trust co-founder, accompanied us on another excursion to help us understand the humpback’s rich auditory life. Our whale boat came with a submersible microphone so that we could hear the humpbacks singing (an activity reserved for the males of the species), which was amazing. Although Darling has made many of the major discoveries about whale songs, he acknowledged that exactly why they sing remains a mystery. If you’d like to hear whale songs, The Whalesong Project can provide some amazing listening. Jim Darling has a great job …

Photographer Flip Nicklin (in white shirt).

If that weren’t enough, National Geographic photographer Flip Nicklin, perhaps the most famous whale photographer in the world, was also on hand during another excursion to offer his insights as well as his expertise in underwater photography. Nicklin co-founded Whale Trust with Darling and Meagan Jones in 2001. It was a remarkable couple of days made even better by the knowledge that every dollar we gave to the event went directly to support whale research.

That The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua would sponsor such an event is no surprise: the hotel is renowned on Maui for its support of all things Hawaiian, in and out of the water. One of the biggest secrets behind its success is Clifford Nae’ole, who has spent more than two decades as the hotel’s cultural advisor. His signature event kicks off this Easter weekend, the annual Celebration of the Arts, a three-day festival dedicated to the Hawaiian culture. This 20th anniversary celebration will feature films, dance, workshops and demonstrations. Best of all, most of the events are free!

The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Photo by Ron Starr.

The RC Kapalua also practices Earth Day (April 22) every day with its Ambassadors of the Environment by Jean-Michel Cousteau eco-adventure program, as well as with its spacious organic gardens, used by chef Jojo Vasquez to create his spectacular offerings at the Banyan Tree restaurant.



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About Sarah Elbert

Sarah Elbert

As executive editor of Delta Sky, Sarah Elbert lassos the best writers she can find to cover the world—as well as contributing some prose of her own. Before coming to Sky, Sarah was editorial director of magazines including Northwest WorldTraveler and Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Postcards. She has been a newspaper editor, a freelance writer and an Associated Press reporter, riding with the White House travel pool (back in the Clinton days) and covering everything from natural disasters to a cat kidney transplant. Sarah has written for The New York Times, the New York Post, the New York Sun—but not the NY Daily News. She now lives in Minneapolis, which she finds lovely and underrated, but does occasionally miss Manhattan and the Staten Island Ferry. Sarah would like to think she could again go backpacking across Europe, and she still loves to travel, but she knows that train has left the station. It's just so much quicker to fly.

About Deborah Caulfield Rybak

Deborah Caulfield Rybak

Senior editor Deborah Caulfield Rybak interviewed the Who’s Who of Hollywood during her years as an entertainment industry reporter at the Los Angeles Times. She still prefers writing about the arts to almost any other journalistic activity, so it’s a good thing we’ve got her on that beat at Sky. She’s pocketed numerous journalism awards and co-written three books.

But that’s just her journalistic cred: she’s also worked as an FM deejay in Aspen, a speechwriter in Washington and an environmental film festival director in Colorado. She considers herself happiest when she’s out of town—and out of cellphone range. She’s hitchhiked across Kenya, spent the night atop a pyramid in Central America, hovered face-to-mandible with giant manta rays during a night dive in Hawaii and hiked the High Atlas mountains in Morocco. Still left on her to do list: Bhutan and marlin fishing.

About Liz Doyle

Liz Doyle

After a few years navigating the trenches of New York's fashion scene as a stylist assistant at Harpers Bazaar, fashion editor Liz Doyle is excited to be back in her childhood hometown of Minneapolis. When she isn't scouting the latest trends in fashion and travel, she moonlights at a local Parisian brasserie where she says "welcome" and "enjoy" a lot and occasionally tries to improve her French. Though her foray to the editorial side of the magazine industry is a new one, she welcomes the challenge and can't wait to see what this new adventure holds.

About Amanda Welshons

Amanda Hoffstrom

Associate online editor Amanda Welshons maintains the web and social media presence of Delta Sky. She enjoys using new media and exploring how different platforms enhance the reader experience. Based in Minneapolis, Amanda has several destinations on her bucket list including London, Paris and Sydney. She just spent a blissful week in St. Lucia for her honeymoon, and can't wait for upcoming trips to Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver and New York. When she’s not in the office, she's a pop culture junkie, soaking up as many movies, television shows and magazines as possible.