Counting Whales

At some points there were half a dozen different groups of whales in sight at the same time. The spotters called whale activity in a confusing chorus of activity and locations. The annual Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Ocean Count picked a pretty good day. Given the recent winter storm I had half expected to be rained out, some of the east Hawai’i sites were, but we had perfect conditions.

Counting Whales
Counting whales at MM7 north of Kawaihae
Last month a thin haze that hampered visibility, the resorts on the far shore barely visible. This year we could count tourists on the beach at the Mauna Lani about 10 miles away. Some of the whales we spotted were in front of Kiholo Bay about 16 miles to the south. When the visibility is good, the Mile Marker 7 is one of the best whale watching sites in the entire island chain.

Not that we always needed to look that far, often enough the whales were at the base of the bluff, just a few hundred yards below us. In one half hour data interval we counted 24 breaches. Just a few whales around.

No argument, it was a good morning to be counting whales. From the looks of the preliminary results, our site counted far more whales than any other site across the islands. No surprise, this stretch of coast is always thick with whales. The only sites that challenge MM7 are the sites just north and south, Lapakahi and Pu’ukohola Heiau, from the data those folks had a good day as well.

Kohala Diving Guide

My March project is to move all of the dive guide articles over from the old blog. Most of them are already moved over, scheduled to post through this month. Copied and pasted over from the old blog, I have gone through them and updated the posts with current information. The series of blog articles provides a nice guide to anyone exploring the Kohala coast with the plan of getting in the water to snorkel and dive.

Counting Whales

It is that time again! Time for Ocean Count 2012… A morning spent spotting and counting whales for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The sanctuary staff recruits teams to crew sites all around the islands. All together, 61 teams with over 950 volunteers observed whales from Kauai to Hawai’i today. Twenty one teams set up to cover the Big Island from South Point to Opolu Point. The procedure is to observe whales from 8am to noon, recording the behavior in half hour time slots. Every blow, dive, breach or other activity is recorded. The technique is to work in teams of two, one person spotting, binoculars in hand, the other writing as the whale activity is called out.

Counting Whales
Deb Cooper counting whales north of Kawaihae

A bluff overlooking Pelekane Bay has been our site for the last three years. Mile Marker 7 is a perfect place to observe whales. A bluff well above the water. A rocky knoll covered with lawn chairs, coolers, and well over twenty observers peering through binoculars.

This year was much like the last several years. We counted dozens upon dozens of whales from the MM7 site, while other sites around the island are lucky to see a handful. There are some sites that did not see a whale all day. We count as fast as we can write, activity everywhere.

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Some Holiday Diving

Boat dives are always a treat. We generally shore dive, where the only costs are the tank fills and a little gas to drive to the site. Many sites along the Kohala Coast are easily reached from shore. There are a number of great sites that are more difficult to reach, sites for which a boat provides a nice alternative. When going with a dive boat you also have the crew to assist in rigging gear and getting in and out. They also provide drinks, snacks and friendly conversation while you wait through a surface interval between dives. A holiday treat? A mutual Christmas gift? Whatever you want to call it, we booked a dive with Denise and Dave from Blue Wilderness for a day of diving.

Deborah Descending
Deborah descending to the bottom

There were several divers beside Deb and myself. Ben, from London, had left his girlfriend back at the resort for a morning of diving. A family from Saskatchewan was escaping the winter with a couple weeks in Hawai’i and a morning of diving. The wife and daughter were simply snorkeling. The father, an ex-navy diver, was introducing his son Brett to the sport.

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A Saturday Morning Underwater

An almost empty dive boat with one diver wanting to make the best of his vacation. How to fill the boat? Just ask a couple local divers to round out the group and offer a deal. Why not? So we go diving with a few hours notice.

A splendid Kohala morning! Deep blue water, over 100′ visibility, just a day that you are happy to be out on the water. We depart Kawaihae harbor for Black Point. The new boat Blue Wilderness uses is quite nice. Larger, with much more room, and a very smooth ride as we head north. There are only three divers in a boat that can comfortably handle ten or more.

A Hui Ho
The Blue Wilderness Boat, A Hui Ho, moored off Black Point
I love the Black Point site. Great terrain with ridges and pinnacles of rock, it drops to around 90ft at the sand. On arriving we could easily see the bottom 90ft below, and fortunately there was no current. This exposed site can be nearly un-divable when the current is bad. Not sure if the the site is named for either the black lava point above water, or the black coral to be found at depth. We spend about 10mins at the base of the reef where we find a couple nice black corals.

At the bottom a large green sea turtle fins past, I shoot him against the deep blue water. Swarms of Pyramid Putterflyfish hover above the pinnacles. I get my first good, close up photo of a pyramid. It is generally a very fishy site, with a lot of great photo ops, of which I make good use. Potters angelfish are common, as frustrating as usual as these colorful fish dive into the coral at the merest hint of a diver. There are some nice photos of squirrelfish in the crevices, including the largest species, the Longjaw Squirrelfish.

Green Sea Turtle
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) at 80ft, Black Point
We dive Horseshoe for the second site. Here a number of long caves beckon. Low ceilings, but extensive, the caves lead through the reef and offer opportunities to see many interesting critters. A few species of lobster, shrimp and a couple nudis appear in the lights. I had never before seen the Red Reef Lobster, a handsome red and gold fellow is cornered by my light allowing a few great photos.

Unfortunately the arm holding my flash breaks and I spend the second dive holding the flash separately from the camera. My hand still aches while I type this from clutching the two together. But I am determined to keep shooting. While clumsy, it did allow me unlimited flexibility in flash placement when composing a photo. Time to shop for a new tray and arm for the strobe.

Four dives for me in two weekends, not bad, as I really have not gotten enough bottom time this year. The best season for diving in Hawai’i is now, I should make good use of it!

Ancient Messages

The ancient lava flows of South Kohala hold messages from the past. The old Hawaiians often carved petroglyphs into the smooth pāhoehoe along the shoreline. Laboriously pecked into the dark rock are images of men, turtles, canoes and more. Memories from a lost time, messages left by those who lived here so long ago.

Many of the images seem to be similar to modern grafitti, an attempt to make a mark that will be seen by others, maybe to record some memorable deed. Or perhaps simply to leave a mark that will outlive the artist, the hope of immortality carved in stone.

Hawaiian Petroglyphs
Petroglyphs along the beach at ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay
If that was the goal, it worked.

Today, a century or two later, modern visitors can look down and wonder about those who carved the pictures. Did the man with an oar overhead complete some particular feat? Did he win the race against a rival? Complete a first voyage to an island over the horizon and return to boast of the journey?

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