story by Ashley Stepanek
photo by Chris McDonough
Every year, whales migrate from Alaska to winter off Maui; year-round, dolphins live in the waters of the Valley Isle. No surprise, then, that the Maui Ocean Center has chosen to create a new state-of-the-art Marine Mammal Discovery Center to honor the warm-blooded sea dwellers just offshore. Like the whales it celebrates, the place is huge; walking in, past a life-size replica of a humpback, you almost feel you’ve been plunged fathoms into the sea itself. And once inside, you are definitely surrounded by an ocean reality. Even the colors on the walls—turquoise, silver, navy blue—call to mind the light and mood of the sea; photography by shooters Flip Nicklin, David Fleetham and James Watt evokes the playfulness and grace of the animals.
It is the exhibits, though, that truly evoke the world of the nineteen species of marine mammals that make their home in the Islands. There are some forty or so exhibits, including a diorama of a mother and pup monk seal in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, replete with sounds of the seals and native birds; a dolphin play-pod that explores all things dolphin, including how they exhale and talk; and a “bubble net” that simulates what it’s like to be herded, stunned and swallowed by humpbacks off the coast of Alaska.
Once you’ve learned about ocean mammals, you can take in plenty of cold-blooded sea creatures at the MOC, too; this is, after all, the largest tropical reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere. Whether it’s seahorses, moray eels or hammerheads you’re into, you’ll find them—along with an adult tiger shark, the only one in the world in captivity. “People protect what they love,” reads a quote by Jacques Cousteau at the MOC entrance. If the corollary to that is that people love what they know, then the MOC is right on track.
Marine Mammal Discovery Center