It’s February—the height of humpback whale season in Hawaii—which means that it’s next to impossible to get hold of whale scientist Meagan Jones Gray, Ph.D.

For just a few months every winter, the marine mammals that Meagan has dedicated her life to studying migrate from their feeding grounds in Alaska to the warm, calm waters around Maui, offering Meagan the opportunity to study these so-called “gentle giants” in one of the world’s most ideal natural laboratories.

This short window of opportunity means that whenever Meagan isn’t teaching her classes in sustainable science at the University of Hawaii, Maui College or performing her many administrative duties as the executive director of the research/educational nonprofit she co-founded, Whale Trust, she’s out on her boat observing whales and gathering data for her many research projects.

Weeks pass before I can reach her. And when I do finally get her on the phone at her home in Kula, Maui, on a late-February Thursday afternoon, it’s only because she’s thrown out her back and scrapped her scheduled day on the water in favor of getting checked out by her doctor.

At first, Meagan just wants to chat for a few minutes. Her back is killing her, so she suggests we delay the rest of our conversation for another time. “I would love to talk to you when I feel like I can be present,” she explains.

Of course, that sounds agreeable to me. But as Meagan begins to tell me about her passion for the enigmatic sea creatures she studies, she’s fully present despite her pain. Brushing aside her earlier request for a short conversation, she dives deep to tell me about the circuitous path that brought her to Maui and the whale mysteries she spends her days unraveling…

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