In 1795, before unification of the islands, the town was conquered by Kamehameha the Great. Lahaina was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1802 to 1845. It was once an important destination for the 19th-century whaling fleet, whose presence at Lahaina frequently led to conflicts with the Christian missionaries living there. On more than one occasion the conflict was so severe that it led to sailor riots and even the shelling of Lahaina by the British whaler John Palmer in 1827. In response, Maui Governor Hoapili built the Old Lahaina Fort in 1831 to protect the town from riotous sailors.
Originally whalers only chased the enormous and slow Right Whales. They were so slow you could catch them from rowboats off sailing ships as described in Moby Dick. After nearly killing off the right whales, whalers discovered that at certain of the year the faster Humpback Whales would travel to Hawaii to mate and Lahaina became the center to the decimation of this species. However in 1970 things changed and so did Lahaina.
The United States listed all humpback whales as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970 and then under the Endangered Species Act. The international outlawing of whaling has enable the Humpbacks to survive and thrive. Lahaina changed from being a center of whaling to becoming a center for whale research and conservation. Today the boats still leave Lahaina Harbor in search of whales but to photograph them and enjoy their frolicking in the warm Hawaiian sun
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