Thursday, February 26, 2009

Oceanic Whitetip Shark with Pilot Fish of the Anniversary '09

Continued from the post:  Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Baby Jump of the Anniversary '09.

Due to the increasingly bad ocean swells, we decided to go south for fishing & whatever. After a mile or so, my wife spotted a few unusual dorsal fins between large white-capped swells.

I soon recognized they were a couple of pygmy killer whales, Feresa attenuata. They are not that common to see like spinners or spotted dolphins. Men! Things happen on our anniversary. Now you believe me, right? I seriously started believe in some sort of Karma we have between us and the ocean.

I slipped into the water to greet them. Usually a "scout" comes in and check me out but there appeared only two swimming by.

I saw them in the distance but they seemed to be in a hurry, perhaps to catch up with their main pod ahead somewhere.

As I was swimming back to my boat, I felt in my sixth sense that some one was watching me from behind. Yes, it was. A fair size oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus.

This actually happens quite often when the underwater visibility is low, and sharks can sneak up behind. Sure it was bad on that day because of the rough ocean and partially cloudy condition. But when this happens, I learned not to panic over the years.

oceanic whitetip shark, Carcharhinus longimanus, with pilot fish, Naucrates ductor, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

I dove & snapped a couple of shots as she was investigating me at the close range. The shark was a thing of beauty. Long pectoral fins were down and she was swimming straight at me along with three pretty pilot fish, Naucrates ductor. I don't get much opportunities to see this shark with many pilot fish around here (that is very common in Red Sea), so I was very excited about seeing those fish along with the shark.

After she circled me twice, she swam away into the deep blue ocean and disappeared all together. Because of the bad vis, I was unable to relocate her after that.

Meanwhile my wife was in panic seeing the shadows of the shark and me over-wrapping on the ocean surface for a while. It only appeared two were struggling underwater when seen from the boat.

I came back to the surface after a single long dive, I signaled my wife that I was ok.

The encounter was brief but she definitely gave me a shot to remember on our anniversary, in addition to the Hawaiian monk seal youngster.

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Baby Jump of the Anniversary '09

Continued from the post: Kona Resident Great Frigatebird of the Anniversary '09.

After the extremely rare Hawaiian monk seal encounter along with the magnificent great frigatebird at the boat ramp, we were finally able to go outside of the harbor. Our plan was to go north for a day of whale watching to celebrate our anniversary, but the condition wasn't ideal for my wife who were prone to get seasick.

Hawaiian spinner dolphin, Stenella longirostris longirostris, baby jumping, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

As we were contemplating, we were greeted by Hawaiian spinner dolphins, Stenella longirostris longirostris, right at the harbor entrance. See how lucky we were on our anniversary. Effortless. Things happen. It would be so much more fun to go out in Kona if every time is like our anniversary. I've even got this lucky shot of a baby spinner dolphin which jumped right in front of me.

To be continued to: Oceanic Whitetip Shark with Pilot Fish of the Anniversary '09.

Kona Resident Great Frigatebird of the Anniversary '09

Continued from the post: Hawaiian Monk Seal of the Anniversary '09.

It looked like this Hawaiian monk seal youngster was going to stay there for a while. Now he gathered many spectators including this beautiful young female great frigatebird, Fregata minor, which live in this harbor and has been circling us from the sky.

great frigatebird, Fregata minor, young female in flight, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA

What a magnificent bird! This species exhibits sexual dimorphism like the peacock. The female is larger than the adult male and has a white throat and breast. The adult male is famous for its striking red inflated gular sac which he uses in breeding season.

The Great Frigatebird is a fairly large seabird, measuring 42 in (1 m) with long pointed wings of 90 in (2 m) and long forked tails. Frigatebirds are also very light, weighing between 2-4 lb (1–2 kg), and known to have the highest ratio of wing area to body mass, as well as the lowest wing loading of any bird. This has been hypothesized to enable the birds to utilize marine thermals created by small differences between tropical air and water temperatures.

This Kona resident frigatebird was a beautiful female displaying white head and belly. Slightly orange-tinted white patches suggested that she was still a young one, but she was huge, flying above us effortlessly using the marine thermal air.

It would be fun to watch her grow even bigger in the future!

To be continued to: Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Baby Jump of the Anniversary '09.

Hawaiian Monk Seal of the Anniversary '09

Every year my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary on the water (lucky us!), and amazingly something extraordinary happens every year. For example, last year we rescued about twenty men and local youngsters who were drifting offshore on a large broken Hawaiian sailing canoe. We towed them to the harbor at the speed of 2 knot for hours. They thanked us at the harbor, and then we went back out to the sea and encountered my first whale shark of my life!  Wow! Right? Good Karma? Maybe.

This year was no exception. After we spent a lazy morning at home, we got to the harbor late. Morning rush hour was over and nobody was pulling up to launch a boat at the ramp. Actually there was no one around us at the ramp that morning.

I dropped my wife and our two labrador retrievers at the top of the ramp, and she walked down to the middle pier at the ramp to help me launching the boat. Our dogs usually go for a quick dip for a while, so they ran to the launching slope.

As soon as I pulled up in the position to back down, my wife & dogs ran back and told me there was a Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi, lying on the ramp and our dogs were almost bitten by it. Apparently our dogs disrupted the peacefully sleeping seal, and then, he growled or hissed at them harshly.

I parked my car and boat, and grabbed my camera to photograph this rare but interesting opportunity.

Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered. Sadly there are only 1,200 individuals remain in the wild. Most of them live in the north west Hawaiian Islands like Laysan and Midway. Not many hang out in the main Hawaiian Islands.

Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi, basking at boat ramp, young male, critically endangered, Honokohau Harbor, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

But when a monk seal enters in a high human trafficking area such as a famous snorkeling spot, the officials usually capture it and relocate it to a remote place. This is to avoid any trouble between humans and the seal, but actually this is done to protect the commercial activities - the human interest. So I don't agree with the program.

It's a wildlife. Seals can stay wherever they want to. Look at the California, for example, seals and sea lions are everywhere, but somehow they are all living with humans.

If a beautiful snorkeling spot is occupied by seals, let them have it. Humans should be relocated, or share the spot with the seals at their own risk. That's right thing to do.

Well... I know that's very difficult. We'll have to keep educating people.

government officials and locals keeping eyes on Hawaiian monk seal, Monachus schauinslandi, basking at boat ramp, young male, critically endangered, Honokohau Harbor, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean, No MR

As I shot some pictures, officials arrived, and shut down one part of the ramp temporarily to protect him. According to the officials, he was a famous young seal, born and raised on the remote, northern part of the Big Island near Waipio.

However, he has been regularly venturing out and been dangerously getting used to human activities, and started causing troubles with ignorant people who were trying to pet him.

He was a beautiful, small seal covered with thick, shiny slivery hairs. He appeared to be in good health and absolutely looked a lot happier and livelier than those in captivities.

Yes, of course, he can have the ramp to himself, and I'll go somewhere else to launch my boat! See we have no problem.

To be continued to: Kona Resident Great Frigatebird of the Anniversary '09.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Humpback Whale Breaching Extravaganza!

Breach, breach, breach! How exciting it is to see a huge humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae,  breaching out of the water again and again! I seem to never get tired of the action, and I know I'm the luckiest guy to be here to witness and capture such precious moments. Each breach is different and potentially may become a shot of a lifetime.

It's been a very rough season so far this year, but today the condition was...I would say, fair. It wasn't windy but had large swells typical of Hawaii's ocean in winter. We found a group of five whales competing each other for a female. We followed them from the distance and noticed their activities were heating up quickly. They were head-butting and throwing peduncles to each other. Then, I screamed, "Breach!"

humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae, breaching, Haleakala of Maui in background, Hawaii, Pacific Ocean

Exciting humpback whale breaching session was just started. Meanwhile, the head-lunging became more violent, making loud scary whistling sound, and the peduncles were thrown at a lightening speed toward the other whale. What a powerful series of actions! Humpback whales are just incredible!

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