When I signed up for the Teralani Sunset Maui Cocktail Sail on my trip to Maui, I was mostly after drinks, snacks, and some nice photographs of the sun sinking behind the volcanic islands. I hadn’t expected the National Geographic-style whale adventure my evening would become.
As the West Maui mountains gradually receded, crew member Liz gave us the run down on the ship’s parts: the all-important bathrooms, bar, and general guidelines for boat safety on the Teralani Sunset Cruise. Then she said we’d also be searching for whales.
I didn’t get my hopes up however. I knew I’d arrived for my trip to Maui at the tail end of the whale season, when most migrating humpbacks have already started their journey back to Alaskan waters. I specifically skipped an all-out whale-watching tour, thinking it would be a bust. But barely into my first drink, Teralani’s whale expert Mark announced the presence of humpbacks near a boat a few hundred yards away.
In the distance, occasional puffs of water, forceful jets of exhalation, sprung from the sea. The deck was instantly crowded with teetering tour goers hoping to catch a glimpse of the action, camera in one hand, drink in the other.
We approached slowly before Captain Pam idled the ship’s engines to stop our forward progress. Mark stood on the deck behind us, telling us that legal restrictions meant we could not approach within 100 yards of the whales. As we bobbed up and down in the water watching the puffs and the occasional dorsal fin, he narrated lots of whale facts, telling us that the whales we were seeing were a female and calf pair, about to make the trip to Alaska. The females come to Hawaii to give birth, fattening their calves up on rich milk and strengthening them for the long trip north through lots of playing.
As Mark described it, the intensely caloric feedings are “like giving a five-year-old a Red Bull.” The calf is so energized they hurl themselves to and fro.
And that’s when I mostly stopped listening, because the whales began leaping and somersaulting, twirling in mid-air before dramatically smacking a dorsal fin on the water’s surface. For a split second, the entire female whale would be visible, the bumpy blue-black skin in sharp relief against the evening sky, trails of water flung from her body. Then calf would follow, imitating its mother in perfect sequence, as if they were performing a well-rehearsed dance routine.
The next two hours were a blur of whale jumping. At one point, the curious whales swam towards our boat, their bodies distorted by the cerulean water. One even exhaled right onto the crowd of people clinging to the front of the boat. We had a few brief breaks in between sightings to grab a drink or an appetizer, but for the most part it was constant whale action. I’m not sure I even noticed the sunset.