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Naturalist can add to the experience

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Conservation groups urge travelers to seek trip operators that treat whales and dolphins in a sensitive manner and minimize disturbance to the animals. Among other suggestions: Look for whale-watching cruises that have naturalist guides on board and have clean, well-equipped and safe boats. Also, ask about the success rate of seeing whales.

In Maui, you can see whales from shore during the height of the season (mid-January to mid-March), but take a whale-watching cruise for the best views. There are plenty of cruises available. Here are some favorites:

— Pacific Whale Foundation, 612 Front St., Lahaina; 800-942-5311 or in Maui 808-249-8811, www.pacificwhalefoundation.org. This research and educational organization's cruises are economical, feature well-versed naturalists and are on large, well-equipped power catamarans. A fleet of six boats sails 15 times a day on two-hour trips out of Lahaina and Maalaea harbors. Sightings guaranteed or a free trip. Admission for adults $19.95 or $29.95 (depending on time of day); for children, it's $15; younger than 6 go free with adult. There's a 15 percent discount for booking online.

— Gemini, Kaanapali Beach, P.O. Box 10846, Lahaina, Maui; 800-820-SAIL (7245) or (808) 669-0508, www.geminicharters.com. This 64-foot catamaran loads and sails from Kaanapali Beach in front of the Westin Maui. Choose a two-hour whale-watching cruise or a four-hour snorkeling cruise that sails through some of the whales' favorite areas en route to snorkeling locations. Beverages and continental breakfast, picnic lunch or appetizers included, depending on time of day. Whale-watch trips: adults $55, teens $45, children $35. Snorkel trips: adults $90, teens $70, children $50.

To learn more:

— Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, www.wdcs.org. This Internet site maintains a large database of whale-watching tours around the world. It lists operators offering boat-, land- and air-based whale-watching opportunities.

— American Cetacean Society, www.acsonline.org. It also has information on its whale-watching expeditions in Baja.