Maui Ocean Center’s Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & 3D Sphere Brings New Dimension to Hawaii’s Whale Experience

By Team

Photo: Maui Ocean Center.

“Create an experience too big for an aquarium tank” was the vision for a new, groundbreaking exhibit at Maui Ocean Center, The Aquarium of Hawaii. For over 20 years, Maui Ocean Center has fostered understanding, wonder, and respect for Hawaii’s marine life with residents and visitors from around the world, but one marine animal has always posed a challenge to bring into the park.

Humpback whales are arguably Hawaii’s most iconic marine mammal. Every winter, over 10,000 humpback whales complete their 3,000-mile migration from Alaska to Hawaii to mate and give birth. Just offshore of Maui Ocean Center is the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, a renowned gathering site for humpback whales and whale watching activity.

For the Maui Ocean Center, a leader in connecting people with Hawaiian marine life, live humpback whales were never an option or desire to exhibit at the Aquarium. In 2002, Maui Ocean Center testified and supported a bill that proposed banning the exhibition of live cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises). The bill passed with strong public support and became a monumental victory for the conservation of Maui’s marine mammals.

Photo: Maui Ocean Center.

Maui Ocean Center designed its Marine Mammal Discovery Center to integrate humpback whales into the park experience through static displays and models. While it was engaging through the early 2000’s, advancements in digital technology have exponentially broadened the horizon’s for exhibit designs. These advancements lead to a renewed energy to bring humpback whales to the Aquarium in a completely new way, to create an experience too big for an aquarium tank.

Photo: Maui Ocean Center.

The answer came in the form of the Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & 3D Sphere, the Aquarium’s newest exhibit and facility created in collaboration with local artisans, marine mammal specialists, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and affiliated organizations. The facility includes an interactive exhibit hall preluding an immersive experience in Hawaii’s first laser-projected 3D sphere theater.

The exhibit hall highlights the whales’ nomadic lifestyle and migration routes taken globally, regionally, and within Hawaii, underlining the fact that it is a creature in constant travel. Guests will learn about the whale’s behaviors at any given point of their migration while explaining the different roles they engage in. The exhibit content ranges from interactive children games to never before scene humpback whale footage on a convex screen. Then, visitors will have the opportunity to enter the Sphere to experience these behaviors in a one-of-a-kind whale encounter.

Photo: Maui Ocean Center.

Humpback whales are brought to life through a virtual experience that utilizes the most advanced systems in lenses and seeming technology. The use of active 3D glasses and 4k imagery generated by multiple laser projects, backed by a dynamic 7.1 surround system, blurs the lines of reality and transports viewers into a digital sea to experience Maui’s humpback whales in their own environment.

The Humpbacks of Hawaii experience was filmed and directed by Daniel Opitz of Ocean Mind. Under the supervision and permits granted by NOAA, Opitz spent two seasons in the waters around Maui filming humpback whales. While many of Hawaii’s visitors witness humpback whales from the ocean’s surface, Maui Ocean Center aims to provide guests with a rarely seen glimpse of what happens beneath the waves.

Photo: Maui Ocean Center.

Maui Ocean Center anticipates opening the Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & 3D Sphere by the year’s end in advance of peak humpback whale watching season. But as spring approaches and humpbacks begin their departure from Hawaii to Alaska, Maui Ocean Center’s new exhibit will preserve their presence and enable guests to enjoy the beauty and mystery of humpback whales year-round.

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