Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day 14 - A Whale of a Tale

Our last day of Maui was what the doctor ordered. After a hard but absolutely amazing hike through Haleakala yesterday, we headed to west Maui along the beautiful coast of the "Valley Isle".

The goal for the day - see a Whale.

It didn't take long. As we drove around the island to get to the beautiful town of Lahaina, we were treated to large Humpback whales launching themselves in the air over the water. The action is called breaching the water.

Stopping for a scenic view of these magnification mammals of the ocean, we were treated to more wonderful action from the coast.

Alex and Tyler are ready for some whales!
A humpback whale blows and shows the dorsal fin for us
Our first stop in Lahaina was a Japanese Buddhist Temple. There are about 90 such temples on the islands of Hawaii and this gave us a chance to learn more about Buddhism and the influences to the peoples and landscape that comes from the exportation of this religion to Hawaii.

Three story Japanese Pagoda
Large Buddha on the left with the beautiful Puu Kukul (5,788 feet) in the distance
The religious grounds were next to the beach where Kelsey gave us a wonderful introduction to Humpback whales, while we all stood in the shallow ocean waters as the ocean lapped our feet and legs. The area around Maui, Lana'i, and Molokai are the birthing grounds for the Humpback whales between the months of November and February. This is mating season and today of all days was the most active that has been seen all season. During Kelsey's talk a huge whale breeched the water in the distance and came crashing down to the water. Unfortunately, none of us captured the magnificent moment on film. However, there were probably 2000 to 3000 Humpback whales in the area around Maui today.

Professor Van Kooten, Alex, and Dan
Nature is our classroom

 Then off to downtown Lahaina before our whale watching tour on a ship began.

The town is a former whaler town, the capital of Maui from 1820 to 1845 and home of the Maui Kings. The town was highly influenced by Christian missionaries and became one of the most successful and literate populations per capita west of the Mississippi River in the United States (even though Hawaii officially became a state in 1959).  There was a fort in the town, a Kings palace and courthouse, which still stands. In 1873, a banyan tree was planted in front of the courthouse in honor of the 50th anniversary of Protestant Christian missions to Lahaina. Today the tree is enormous! It has 16 trunks in the center and has shoots that keep the tree growing up and out. It is 60 feet tall and 1/4 mile wide. YES ONE TREE! Wow.

Taking shade next to the 16 trunks (on the left) of the banyan tree. The tree is native to India and came from a sheriff of Lahaina who received the tree as a gift when visiting missionaries in India from what I understand. Notice the down shoots that have since formed as a trunk themselves.
Move over European Beech, the Banyan tree, and specifically this one, is now my favorite tree.
What is  your favorite tree?
The courthouse built in 1859 where the fort once stood
Replica remnants of the fort walls that protected the town from angry whalers (the real fort rocks were used to build the first prison in Lahaina)
Out from under the beautiful banyan tree - yes, this is one tree. It reminds me of spiritual multiplication, going to the ends of the earth, being firmly rooted in God's Word, and a tree that supports life abundant...
Next to the courthouse and banyan tree is the harbor for fishing boats and whale watching vessels. We joined a research oriented crew, Pacific Whale Foundation, for our excursion onto the ocean. The crew as excellent and gave us an amazing education on the whales. The trip was full of whales and we saw more than 20 different whales - sorry that none breeched, but still it was incredible and an wonderful opportunity to learn about this endangered animal of the deep. To try and describe what we saw all day might be like this: Image looking out at the ocean horizon, with its light to deep blue expanse with sprouts of water shooting skyward in every direction you look. The occasional whale back or tail shows its sign and then out of no where specific a huge explosion of a beast as long as a bus and heavier than seven elephants lunges into the air for only a few looking in that direction to see and then crashes with a eruptive splash back from whence it came.

Jaclyn and Brianna ready to see some whales!
Heading out to sea
Haleakala in the distance with the royal blue ocean waters
We were allowed to be 100 yards from the whales. They surrounded us all day!
The back of a Humpback whale
Ah a suitor (or 2 or 3, 4, or 5)
Another whale chasing after a potential mate
We saw groups of two, three, or five the entire excursion on the ocean.

Two whales grab some air before diving. Humpback whales can hold their breath for upto 55 minutes, with an average of about 25 minutes for they surface. Breaching is considered most likely an act to draw attention - even though males and females alike will breech (launch into the air)
A tail and follower blowing air up. Humpbacks can be as big as a school bus and weigh 45 tons
Whale-watching is a significant industry from November to February in Maui
Dan (in the very front) and Alex G (behind Dan) get the perfect view
The crew of our ship indicated this was the best day they had seen all season to whale watch. Thanks God.
Ian enjoying the whales and the rays
A feel for the view at dinner with Steven (left) and big Dan. The island of Lana'i in the distance
Sunset in Lahaina on the beach
Aloha sun - see you tomorrow
Cute shops up and down Front street
A long stretch of two story buildings like these that feature shops on the lower level and restaurants with ocean views on the second level
Pure delight! - Snow cones are a no-no. This is the real deal Hawaiian Shaved Ice. A spectacular end to a spectacular day.
Please continue to pray for our health and strength. Another student was sick today. Tomorrow we fly to Kaua'i island for some of our longest and most beautiful hikes with geology and geography yet.

Miles Hiked today and yesterday 0.2
Miles Hiked in Hawaii: 44.4 miles
Miles on the car: 1147 miles
Number of U-Turns: 18
Number of sick passengers on the ocean - zero. :)

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