LAHAINA - As thousands of humpback whales frolic in Maui's waters this month, they will be joined by a special migration of whale experts during Whale Tales 2013.
Now in its seventh year, the Whale Tales event will debut Feb. 16 in its new venue at the Maui Theatre, 878 Front St., home to 'Ulalena.
The annual public event provides ocean enthusiasts an opportunity to learn about whales and the oceans from leading scientists, photographers and conservationists.
These experts will also join whale watching cruises donated by local companies throughout the weekend, culminating in a sunset benefit cruise on Monday evening.
"We are so lucky to live here on Maui, where the whales are such an active part of our lifestyle," said Whale Trust Maui Executive Director Meagan Jones.
"As photographers, filmmakers, conservationists and researchers, we travel around the world to learn more about these animals and their ocean environment, but it is on Maui that we come together to share our stories, research, photographs and films at Whale Tales - a free community event."
Whale Tales is hosted annually by Whale Trust Maui, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to whale research and education.
Funds raised at Whale Tales support the research efforts of Whale Trust Maui, Center for Whale Studies and Hawaii Whale Research Foundation. This annual event has raised more than $200,000 for whale research on Maui since its debut in 2006.
This year's speakers include leading marine conservationist Richard Ellis; Dr. Greg Stone, chief scientist for oceans for Conservation International; Tom Fitz, Emmy Award-winning natural history cinematographer; and Ford Cochran, director of programming for National Geographic Expeditions.
Local presenters will include Ed Lyman from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Mark Ferrari of the Center for Whale Studies, Photographer Marty Wolff and Dr. Jim Darling of Whale Trust Maui.
Their presentations will include some of the latest findings about social, behavioral and conservation topics related to whales and their natural environment.
Topics include the mystery of humpback songs, whale disentanglement efforts, the vanishing killer whale population, wildlife film-making, whale art and ocean conservation.
Whale Tales will include a special tribute to Hawaii Whale Research Foundation founder Dr. Dan Salden, who spent 34 years researching humpback whales and other marine mammals before his death last year.
Admission to the Maui Theatre presentations on Feb. 16 and 17 is free; registration is not required, although a suggested donation of $20 will be gratefully accepted at the door.
Whale watching trips on Feb. 16-18 are by ticketed reservation, purchased in advance at (808) 572-5700.
Participating restaurants in the "Whale Tales" Dine-Around Lahaina will donate 10 percent of check proceeds from Saturday and Sunday to event beneficiaries.
Event sponsorship packages and VIP passes, which include premium seating, can also be purchased at www.whaletrustmaui.org. Facebook members can "like" Whale Tales for regular updates on the event.
Also new this year are T-shirts and other merchandise with dazzling, color-saturated art created by local designer Chelsea Kohl from pictures of actual whale tails.
Sponsor Katmandu Inc., a leader in "green" apparel creation, has created a limited edition rash guard featuring a photograph donated by National Geographic whale photographer Flip Nicklin.
For a full schedule of events, visit www.whaletrustmaui.org.
Whale Tales is made possible through the generous support of many individuals and organizations. This year's major event sponsors are Makana Aloha Foundation, Darlene and Jeff Anderson, Deborah and Michael Rybak and The Ritz-Carlton. Kapalua.