Maui is certainly one of the most spectacular places in the world to watch humpback whales in their breeding grounds. But when those of us in Hawaii bid these animals aloha in the spring as they journey north to their feeding grounds, a few PWF naturalists follow suit and head to other parts of the world to experience a summer whale season and the different types of wildlife, and behaviors, that entails. May through September is the prime time to watch humpbacks and other migratory whales in their feeding grounds up north – Alaska and the upper coastlines of the west and eastern U.S. are a few of our favorite options.

Many of our amazing naturalists stay in Maui year round (it is, after all, hard to find a reason to leave); there’s so much to see and do during the summer in Maui, and Pacific Whale Foundation’s snorkel and dolphin watch cruises offer visitors an exciting chance to see many beautiful marine creatures that call Maui home besides our winter whale visitors. Others of us take this time to journey abroad, or across the U.S., for different eco-tourism jobs and have ended up in Massachusetts, or Alaska, or California, or Washington. In this post, I want to highlight my summer experiences away from Maui, and in future posts I plan to talk with other naturalists who have also moved away to work in the conservation field.

I’ve worked three seasons for PWF – one summer and two winter whale seasons. Throughout this time, I’ve gained an incredible amount of respect for the beautiful Hawaiian Islands and embraced many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Last summer, eager to continue my adventure in learning, I decided to move up to the San Juan Islands in Washington State to work as a naturalist for an orca whale watching company. This summer, I made the same move – so I’m currently working my second season up here. It’s amazing to experience new marine ecosystems, observe and appreciate the killer whales that frequent this area on a near-daily basis, and expand my knowledge base while meeting and teaching new visitors about the importance of sustainability. I found it to be an incredible contrast – living in the Pacific Northwest amongst pine forests and rugged mountain peaks while still experiencing a very similar “island lifestyle” to the one I lived on Maui. People here reference the same “island time” mentality to explain delays, procrastination, and the general relaxed vibes that flow around the small community here in Friday Harbor. It’s a wonderful place to be, with many friendly people, delicious local food, and mind-blowing scenery.

After my first season in Washington, I returned to Maui for a winter whale season with many wonderful memories and a plethora of stories to tell. People often joke that I “follow the whales,” but in reality, I’m following the whale seasons! Many of the humpbacks we see in Maui head straight to Alaska (stay tuned for a feature on a fellow naturalist doing amazing things in the biggest U.S. state), and although we do see a few of our beloved baleen whales here in the Salish Sea, the most common whale we watch are the orcas. Living in another part of the world, and learning about the environmental challenges that are both unique to the area and relevant worldwide, truly strengthened my role as a naturalist and my understanding of conservation – I was excited to return to Maui with this further-developed passion

At PWF, our mission is to protect our oceans through science and advocacy. Many of our naturalists are fostering this in Maui and continuing onwards to take this message throughout the rest of the world. It’s what our ohana is all about! We hope that our guests, the newest members of our PWF family, leave our tours inspired and further motivated to either join, or continue to fight for, the environmental conservation movement. We want it to spread worldwide – our oceans are worth fighting for!

Lauren Fritz