Written by Mona de Crinis
Ah, February — the month of love. All over the world, hopeless (and hopeful) romantics planned intimate dinners for two, scoured jewelry stores for that special gift and perused Valentine’s Day cards for that perfect message. On Maui, it’s also the height of whale season, which makes it a great time to treat your sweetheart to any one of PacWhale Eco-Adventures’ romantic sunset sails or dinner cruises. From humpbacks to humans, Maui’s the place to find a mate.
Legally protected as a designating breeding ground, the waters of Maui Nui provide a safe place for humpback whales to rest before making the long journey back to Alaska where the whales spend the next several months feeding to regain their strength for next year’s breeding season.
Each year, these whales travel thousands of miles to breed and calve in the tropical warmth of ‘Au‘au Channel, a calm stretch of sea separating the islands of Maui and Lana‘i. Traditionally, it’s the month when courting behavior reaches fever pitch with males often singing and engaging in competition with other males as they vie for the honor of becoming one lucky female’s primary escort and mating partner.
Researchers have yet to definitively confirm the purpose and intent of these magical whale songs heard below the brine, however, it is largely accepted that only the males sing. Several theories have been put forward as to why the males sing, including advertising their presence and ‘attractiveness’ to females, to form male alliances or to help mediate social interactions between potential male competitors in a type of lek mating system.
Leks are common occurrences in terrestrial mating systems, particularly among birds, where groups of males gather in an area to competitively display. This allows females to choose the best quality males but also allows males to assess each other. It is likely that humpback whale songs give listeners an indication of how fit, strong and/or healthy an individual is, the listener can then use this information to decide whether or not to interact with the singing individual.
Humpback whales aren’t the only mammals fortunate enough to find a mate on Maui, however. Whether one believes finding your life partner is a matter of divine intervention or random circumstance, it’s difficult to argue that PacWhale Eco-Adventures staffers Josh (Certified Marine Naturalist) and Morgan Wittmer (Ecotours Manager) weren’t destined to fall in love, marry and start a family under the seductive spell of sun, sea and shared passions.
“We have so much in common,” Morgan explains. “We’re both total ocean science nerds, and Pacific Whale Foundation and PacWhale Eco-Adventures was the perfect spot to drop anchor. I wanted to be outside, engaged in science and surrounded by kindred spirits, which is what I found here and in Josh.”
Although the couple first met in 2003 while working at a sea camp in Florida, life unfurled with Morgan and Josh going their separate ways yet remaining loosely connected through social media and sporadic emails.
Then, in late 2009, Morgan relocated to Maui and began working for PWF’s social enterprise, PacWhale Eco-Adventures. Josh had accepted a Naturalist position earlier and, as fate would have it, Morgan and Josh reconnected aboard Ocean Oddessy during a Molokini & Turtle Arches snorkel tour.
They started dating later that summer after a seemingly innocent offer to carpool accelerated the romance. Morgan began driving Josh, who was carless due to a previous accident, to work. “It was my way to court him,” Morgan admits. “I used to get up at 4am to give him a ride — even on my days off! And we’ve been together ever since.”
They married in 2014, a year after Josh proposed near the water’s edge on Keawakapu beach in Kihei, at Maui Ocean Center with the aquarium’s shark tank as their backdrop — the perfect site for the life they would lead together.
Today, Morgan and Josh live with their two daughters, Kailea and Leilani, in a home rich in ocean décor where turtles and dolphins adorn the walls — silent witnesses of yet another partnership born of the sea.