Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Killer Whales in Hawaii? - Transient Orcas of Hawaii
Part IV of The Epic Wildlife Encounters

Continued from the post: Pantropical Spotted Dolphin Mother & Baby - Part III of The Epic Wildlife Encounters.

After the brief but playful pantropical spotted dolphin encounter, we rushed home. We had so much excitement and so many wildlife actions to remember and talk about from this day... Wait a minute! It's not over yet! What could top that blue marlin attack, five mahi mahi actions, tunas, birds, etc.?

At sunset, on the dark horizon of mauka (island side), Naomi spotted something unusual. I looked out and focused my eyes on the horizon at that direction. I screamed, "Orca!!!, Orca??? the killer whales???!!!"

Wow! There were two of them! One of them had its signature long dorsal fin, which was characteristic of a large male orca. Unmistakable. It was the killer whale, Orcinus orca.


Killer whales of Hawaii are called "Transient", and believed to hunt and eat only other marine mammals like dolphins and other smaller whales, no fish at all. The transient killer whale sightings in Hawaii are extremely rare.


transient orca or killer whale, Orcinus orca, male dorsal fin - killer whale sightings in Hawaiian waters are extremely rare, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

I contacted the renowned cetacean scientist, Robin W. Baird, PhD, and found out that both are actually adult males. He said, "the one with the bent fin has an exceptionally large fin for an open ocean killer whale - other adult males documented in Hawaii have had relatively small dorsal fins (and smaller overall body size) than coastal adult male killer whales." According to Robin, it seems that "open ocean/tropical killer whales are not as strongly sexually dimorphic as are coastal animals." He also said, "we have a very small catalog of killer whales from Hawaii so we'll compare these and see if they happen to match - unlikely though as I think it is a pretty wide-ranging population."


transient orca or killer whale, Orcinus orca, male dorsal fin - killer whale sightings in Hawaiian waters are extremely rare, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

He had a scientific publication which was published in October of 2006. It was a compilation of data and information about the transient killer whales of Hawaii, titled "Killer Whale in Hawaiian Waters: Information on Population Identity and Feeding Habits." According to this paper, the last recorded encounter was in April of 2004 in Lanai! About 5 years ago! Yes, our encounter was that rare!!! How lucky my friends, Makoto and Naomi, were!

Although it was about 6:30 pm, I wanted to get a shot of them underwater somehow, which I assumed nobody had. Makoto and I quickly got ready but after a couple of blows, they dove and disappeared. I marked my GPS and we patiently waited for another 30 minutes or so, and then, we heard their blows again on the opposite side, but far away about 500 yard out. They spouted several times and then dove again. We waited another 40 minutes or so but they never showed up after that.

What an awesome day!

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin Mother & Baby
Part III of The Epic Wildlife Encounters

Continued from the post: Blue Marlin Attack! - Part II of The Epic Wildlife Encounters.

Less than half way back to the harbor in Kona, we found our selves surrounded by large pod of pantropical spotted dolphins, Stenella attenuata.


The sun was low with some clouds, but we were able to snap some shots as the dolphins were playful at this time. This was the first spotted dolphin encounter for my friends, Makoto and Naomi, during their stay, so all worked out pretty good for a short period of time.


pantropical spotted dolphins, Stenella attenuata, mother and baby jumping out of boat wake, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

To be continued to: Killer Whales in Hawaii? - Transient Orcas of Hawaii - Part IV of The Epic Wildlife Encounters.

Blue Marlin Attack!
Part II of The Epic Wildlife Encounters

Continued from the post: Mahi Mahi Extravaganza! - Part I of The Epic Wildlife Encounters.

After about two hours of swimming and fishing actions, we already had loads of excitement and adrenaline rush to be emotionally and physically drained. However, this was the last day my friends from Tokyo, Makoto & Naomi, could go out as they were leaving tomorrow, so I was determined to take them out as far as I could. In addition, Makoto wanted to see oceanic whitetip sharks, Carcharhinus longimanus, so we continued to look for them everywhere.

Without much success in finding oceanic whitetip sharks, we arrived at the next buoy. The buoy seemed to be holding some fish from the look of sea birds and other fishermen.


sooty tern, Onychoprion fuscatus = Sterna fuscata, and wedge-tailed shearwater, Puffinus pacificus, feeding on bait fish driven to the surface by attacking skipjack tuna, Katsuwonus pelamis, underwater, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

And then, we saw fish breaking the surface and sea birds started diving down. Here we go! Feeding frenzy started. We trolled through the birds pile and my Penn reel immediately screamed as a fish devoured my lure. Hanapa'a! It was a fairly big skipjack tuna or aku in Hawaiian, Katsuwonus pelamis, - a good eating fish if you prepare it right.

We wanted to catch much better eating yellowfin or bigeye tunas, but we weren't interested in catching any more aku, so we moved out to the next FAD in search of the oceanic whitetip shark and other better-eating tunas.

At the third FAD of the day, my fish finder was locating lots of fish at 80-250 feet. The very first drop of my jig hooked a nice size bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus. Now we had enough fish for ourselves, but we still wanted to see the shark.

Our time was running out for the day but we decided to check out one more FAD located 6 miles down south. We arrived there late afternoon and soon picked up a decent size skipjack tuna. Then, an  unthinkable thing happened. As I reeled in my skipjack, a humongous blackish object with flashy neon blue lines showed up under our boat, and swam straight for my fish on line in a lightening speed! "Billfish!", so I screamed. And then, I screamed again, "it's a blue!!!" Yes, it was a huge blue marlin, Makaira nigricans.


I moved my little tuna swiftly away from the bill but the hungry monster fish relentlessly attempted to attack the tuna right by my boat's gunwale! This marlin was fairly big - about 12 - 14 feet in length, weighing...who knows but easily 300-400 lb or maybe more. The body was lit by its hunting, fighting color - neon blue.

It was so fascinating to watch such a big fish being able to move that fast! Literally lightening fast! The size, speed, outrageous color, and its determination as an apex predator... impressive. The event was crazy, frenzy and surrealistic but all of us witnessed the animal's stunning beauty and overwhelming power.


blue marlin, Makaira nigricans, off Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

It was an awe-inspiring, humbling experience to see a marlin hunting the prey like that. The poor tuna was totally freaked out. The attack of the marlin was brutal and merciless... Wow!

It was a scary sight, too, but I realized this to be the once in a life time opportunity to photograph blue marline hunting behavior, so I started scrambling around the boat to get ready for the action.

I handed the fishing rod and the "bait" to Naomi, and specifically told her NOT to feed the marlin. Makoto and I hurried up to get in the water to photograph. And then suddenly with one burst of the loud noise and huge splash, the marlin gobbled the bait in one bite, leaping out of the water, and snatched it off my puny 50lb line. Holy cow!

The game was over as quickly as it started. I was extremely disappointed in not getting any pictures of this event, but at the same time I felt a bit of relief because I didn't have to get in the water with the angry marlin!

The marlin did not only scared us but also scared other fish in the entire visinity, so the fishing was so over there, too. Now we were completely drained by the event. We decided to give up on the shark, and headed home. The sun was setting but we still had 30 miles to go.

To be continued to: Pantropical Spotted Dolphin Mother & Baby - Part II of The Epic Wildlife Encounters.

Mahi Mahi Extravaganza!
Part I of The Epic Wildlife Encounters

June 9th, 2009. This day should be marked as one of the most memorable wildlife excursions in my life. My fiends, Makoto, Naomi and I started late this morning as we did manta ray dive last night. We cruised straight to the first FAD to make up the time loss from our late start. No fishing boats were around. Yep, that was usually a bad sign. However, from my experience, I know sometimes I get lucky.


As we approached the buoy, we saw several mahi mahi hanging around. We successfully shot HD video and captured stills, and then picked up five of them! More than enough for our dinner as well as our friends' and families' dinner!


mahi-mahi, dorado, or common dolphin-fish, Coryphaena hippurus, adult bull, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Mahi mahi is such a good eating fish as well as photogenic. To tell you the truth, it is very hard for me to photograph mahi mahi seriously, because I become an excited fishermen when I see a mahi mahi and usually forget about photography. My good clients like Sport Fishing Magazine always ask me to supply more pictures of fishing actions, mahi mahi, wahoo & tuna pictures from Hawaii, but I've been failing to do so. If you are a fisherman, you'll understand. Fishing is just too exciting and too important for a man!


mahi-mahi, dorado, or common dolphin-fish, Coryphaena hippurus, adult bull, Kona Coast, Big Island, Hawaii, USA, Pacific Ocean

Well... this time we had plenty of mahi mahi in our cooler, so we decided to photograph them. Mahi mahi is such a beautiful fish! When they are hunting, the neon blue color dominates their body. When they bite something or are hooked, their flashy greenish golden color takes over their entire body in the blink of an eye.

While we were having fun catching them, we were soon discovered by other fishing boats nearby. Mahi mahi could not help leaping out of the water numerous times, and could be easily seen by others who were located a few miles away. Mahi mahi bites were disrupted by arrival of bigger boats, so we left the scene totally satisfied with everything we've got.

To be continued to: Blue Marlin Attack! - Part II of The Epic Wildlife Encounters.