7/22/19 #kihei #southmaui

In South Maui, we take our whales seriously. We have good reasons, too. Did you know that the ocean waters off Kihei are part of a nationally recognized and federally protected whale sanctuary?

Whale sanctuary map courtesy of NOAA.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary was formed by a 1992 act of Congress.  It was made to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawai’i. The sanctuary is from the shoreline out to where the water reaches about 100 fathoms (600 feet) deep.

The sanctuary is managed by a cooperative partnership between the federal Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, a division of NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) of the state of Hawaii.

Kihei is also home to the Hawaiian Humpback Whale Museum Visitor Center, located on South Kihei Road, with scenic views of the ocean, and, during whale season, whales breaching. The Visitor Center, which is a beautiful reconstruction of a 1940’s beachside home, also educates the public about other forms of marine life such as the monk seals and shoreline birds. The Center is only open Monday through Fridays. 

The relationship between Kihei and its leviathan neighbors has grown over the years.

There is an eye-catching landmark in Kihei which is a nearly life-sized 49-foot humpback sculpture which weighs in at 10 tons.

It is located at the forefront of Kihei’s major recreational center, Kalama Park. This cetacean landmark was donated by artist Elan at some point in the late ’80s.  Every December the whale is adorned with lei.

Recently, the Kalama Park Whale was defaced with graffiti. But, fortunately, concerned citizen and local artist Jefferson Stillwell who is also a former KCA director and ever-present KCA volunteer, cleaned up the sculpture. He was helped by Bob Richardson and other volunteers of the Kalama Park Action Team, who have maintained the sculpture for the past decade.

Whale season for Maui is November through May, and Kihei boasts nearly unlimited spots to view the annual migration of Hawaiian humpback whales from Alaska to local waters here, where they will breed and calve, before returning to colder waters. During this season, you can stand on almost any shoreline and view the whales breaching and see their water spouts. If you are underwater swimming you can hear their whale song.

Since 1980, an annual “Whale Day” was celebrated in Kihei. This Whale Day event occurred on a Saturday in February. The event was originally hosted by the Pacific Whale Foundation but citing unclear reasons, the PWF ceased sponsoring the event in 2017, with plans for reformatting. The restyled 2019 Whale Day was melded with the monthly Fourth Friday events in Kihei, but not too successfully.

Kelly King, South Maui Council Representative, spearheaded efforts to bring back the event for February 2020. She has established additional funding from the county and is developing a hui (cooperative, group)  of local businesses and organizations to support the event financially. The hui potentially includes the PWF, Maui Ocean Center and the Humpback Whale Sanctuary. A possible location for the festivities is the newly built Kihei gymnasium at the South Maui Community Park Recreation Center.