Friday, January 30, 2009

Humpback Whales in VOG - Volcanic Smog

Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are making a huge comeback everywhere in the world. They were officially designated as Endangered Species in 1986. Since then the species had been protected under strict international and local laws and guidelines, they slowly recovered their numbers throughout the world.

In 1990, the species moved up to become a Vulnerable Species, and then, in 2008 the humpback whale officially got off the threatened species list after all those years of our efforts.

It is so gratifying to see them regain their healthy population as well as to know our human efforts actually worked to preserve one of the most beloved and precious species on this planet. The fact is very encouraging to those who actually contributed to the preservation of the humpback whale species.

humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, breaching, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

These days Hawaii's humpback whales are also doing great. On this last day of January, they put up a great show for me. Not just once, but many times throughout the day. Whales were everywhere, and they were very active.

Head breaching, tail breaching (like peduncle throws), lobtailing (tail slapping), flippering (pec slapping),   fluking (fluke-up dive), etc. They did it all! When they are very active like this, it is usually very difficult to focus on a single group of whales because if I choose a wrong one, I may miss a once-in-a-life-time shot.

humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, displaying peduncle throw or tail breach, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Well... on this day fortunately I seemed to have been making right decisions in picking active groups which put up non-stop actions. Many breaches were simply spectacular, too.

In addition, luckily I encountered this rare "gray" adult whale, which kept breaching for several times. A new born calf is usually gray colored, but it was obvious from its size and barnacles that this whale was not a new born calf. It was still smaller but definitely of an adult size.

The "gray" whale did some great breaches on its own, but its distinctive gray body color made these breach shots very unique and even more impressive.

humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, breaching, note rare gray body coloration for adult whale, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

So far everything was going well for me to take great pictures, but there was one bad natural element that I had no control over. It was the thick presence of the VOG - volcanic smog. The VOG -  had been very heavy today since morning, and making everything hazy & fuzzy including my pictures.

The VOG is a form of air pollution that results when sulfur dioxide and other gases and particles emitted by an erupting volcano react with oxygen and moisture in the presence of sunlight.

humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, breaching, Kohala Mountain in background, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Ever since the Kilauea volcano erupted more actively in recent years, the VOG has been roaming around most of the days. Nowadays it is rare to see a clear blue sky and blue ocean in Kona, which Kona was once known for.

The VOG not only affected the visibility but also affected the health of many people. The bad air quality originating to the VOG was certainly harmful to human to breathe in. Many people started to have symptoms of asthma, headaches, sneezing, runny nose, itching, skin irritation, etc.

I was actually diagnosed to have a light symptom of the asthma and became an inhaler user. When the VOG is heavy, usually I can sense it without seeing the VOG index. It makes me harder to just breathe. Sometimes I get sore throat and tearing eyes, too. My wife gets runny nose and sometime she cannot stop sneezing, etc. etc.

humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, fluke-up dive, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Over the years I know of many people who left the island or gave up on moving here for retirement because of the VOG issues.

My family and I still love the island and would like to continue to live on this island despite the vog issues, but it is sad to know that those pictures of humpback whale surface actions would never be the same as those in the past. I surely miss the crystal clear blue sky and ocean along with those magnificent humpback whale actions.

Let's hope someday the eruption would stop and people of Kona regain the blue sky & ocean as well as their health ;-) Meanwhile, I'll process some VOG-less older pictures!

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