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Examples of Humpback Whale Sightings


We're out on the water almost every day watching the whales.

December 17, 2002

While the official season starts on December 15th, I didn’t get out on the water until today. We had a good inaugural trip with the sighting of a yearling right away just north of Kailua. Yearlings and their mothers are some of the first arrivals into waters off the Kona coast. His (or her) mother had already abandoned this yearling after its summer in Alaska. While in Alaskan waters, the yearling had learned how to socialize with other whales and to feed on the fish and krill found there. Yearlings are about 30’ long and have doubled from the 12’ to 15’ length that they measured at birth. Since this was the first time in its life that the yearling had been on its own it was just meandering in the area with no apparent goal in mind. While I try not to be anthropocentric, it always seems that yearlings are looking for the mothers that so unceremoniously abandoned them in our waters. We soon headed farther north toward Keahole Point and ran across another yearling with the same meandering swimming behavior. This whale was accompanied by a pod of Hawaiian spinner dolphins. This made the job of following the whale much easier as the dolphins were able to follow the underwater path of the whale. The dolphins allowed us to stay closer to this yearling even with the erratic changes in direction that it exhibited. As we finally headed back toward Kailua Bay, it seemed the season was looking very bright indeed

December 18, 2002

While we had another beautiful day on the water, fewer whales presented themselves for close up observations. We saw several whales at a one half to one-mile range but these whales were moving at a speed that prevented us from closing the distance between themselves and the boat. I work on a 50’ trimaran that allows us a very stable but somewhat slow moving observation platform. The highlight of the day was a large pod of spinner dolphins that accompanied us for about twenty minutes while they rode the bows of the boat and thrilled the passengers with the aerial acrobatics that give them the nickname “spinners”. These dolphins or nai’a as they are called in Hawaiian are usually quiet in the mornings as they rest and socialize near shorelines. As they prepare for the nighttime feeding sessions they start leaping and cavorting as if they are anticipating their upcoming offshore adventures.

December 20, 2002

We had a surprise today as we found that both of the recently abandoned yearlings we had seen on the 17th had somehow found each other. They were swimming together north of the Honokahau Boat Harbor in an area known to the local residents as Pinetrees. Their erratic changes of direction had also ceased and they were maintaining a steady direction that allowed us to fall in about 100 yards away. They were traveling slowly so passengers were able to get some great double “tail-up” photos as the two whales synchronized their breath hold dives. As we were going back to Kailua we spotted a pod of spinner dolphins near Kaiwi Point. Some of the pod split from the main group and rode the bows of the boat for several minutes before breaking off and heading back to the rest of the pod that was traveling north at a fast pace.

December 23, 2002

It was a breezy day out on the water today. Since no boats were radioing reports of whale sightings we headed north at top speed to reach areas beyond Keahole Point. We had lots of flying fishes leaping from the water as they tried to avoid the boat. When the sea conditions are choppy we tend to sneak up on these fish and we see a lot more of them. As the trip wore on we started to think that we would not see anything at all. We did finally see a whale breach north of us at a distance of just over a mile but careful observations failed to locate the animal. We finally had to turn south and head back toward Kailua. As we headed south we turned in closer to the shoreline and were rewarded with a huge pod of spinner dolphins that were very active. These dolphins traveled with the boat for nearly 30 minutes and the younger animals leaped and spun out of the water. Several of the juvenile dolphins even performed some end over end leaps into the air. Passengers were interested to see the pink flush on the stomachs of the more active individuals. This flush is similar to the red blush that humans develop when they get actively exited. After the trip southward down the coast the trip was saved by a humpback whale which surfaced only a few hundred feet in front of the boat just as we came around Kaiwi Point. This whale was full grown with a length of 40’ to 45’. We killed the engines until the whale turned to the south and started traveling at a slow pace near the surface. This whale was not doing any deep tail up dives but instead was rolling the tail right at the surface between breathing intervals. Since we had not seen any other whales during the trip we stayed with the whale for about a half an hour or so before breaking off contact and heading for the harbor. Just as we headed away from the whale it did a great tail up dive with the flukes high in the air with several of the passengers pointing out the similarity to a final wave goodbye.

December 26, 2002

No humpbacks were sighted today. It is sometimes the case that we will get several days in a row without any whales at all especially at the beginning of the season. It is something that is difficult for me to fathom, as there seems to be no discernable pattern or cause. The change from many whales to no whales in a single day is evidence of the transient nature of these animals. These whales travel around the islands and most of them rarely spend more than a day or two in any one area. One whale was actually sighted on five different islands during a single ten-day span. On the brighter side we did have a great show from a pod of spinner dolphins as they swam in front of the bows and delighted passengers with their aerial acrobatics. Since the peak of the calving season for the Hawaiian spinners occurs around October we had quite a few very small calves in the pod. These babies were staying close to the mothers and several people were surprised by their small size. Spinner calves are only 30” or so at birth and most of the calves were no longer than three feet. They remain with the mothers for about a year before they are weaned. Free return vouchers were distributed to the passengers.

December 28, 2002

No humpbacks were sighted today. We did have a great display by the spinner dolphins that traveled with us for about fifteen minutes. One of these dolphins seemed to be showing off as he was swimming in an inverted position. As he swam along the surface upside down he repeatedly slapped his tail flukes on the water. Others of the pod delighted people by riding the bows allowing for some great up close up photos. Free return vouchers were distributed to the passengers.

December 31, 2002

The whales are back! We had a great cruise today with at least ten returning passengers. All fifty people onboard were treated to a wonderful show. We had left the Kailua Pier only a half hour before when we saw two spouts to the south of Kaiwi Point. As we closed the distance between the boat and this pair of animals one of the crew sighted another pair of blows between Pawai Bay and ourselves. We motored to a position about midway between the two sightings and watched first one pair then the other as they spouted and did tail up displays as they dove. As the wind pushed us along we ended up closer to the southernmost pair, which was fortunate for us. Just as we were about to correct our position one of the two whales exploded from the water in a maneuver called a breach. This was followed up about ten seconds later with a breach by the other whale. After several more blows by the two whales, they again exploded upward at the same time. This double whale breach was almost ballet-like with synchronous movements by both animals. This was certainly the high point of the trip for the passengers with video cameras who caught this spectacular display on tape. We spent the next hour enjoying the blows and tail up displays by these two pairs of humpbacks. Toward the end of the trip as we followed the northern group, they suddenly turned south and led us back toward the harbor. Along the way we were suddenly joined by a small pod of spinners who were soon riding along in front of the bows of the boat. This was an extra treat that made this one of the best trips of the year.


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