Friday, March 20, 2015

A Whale of a Tale!

Humpback whales are among the largest mammals on earth, and to be on the water in a small boat within a short distance of them is a peak lifetime thrill.

Ocean Sports offer quality experience whale watches and snorkle trips on the Big Island of Hawaii, and we have been privileged to take two trips with them this month. There is a large whale sanctuary off the coast which stretches from the central Kona Coast to the North Kohala on the west side of the island. Kawaihae sits right in the middle, and we were in touch with the magnificent creatures within minutes of leaving the harbor. The experienced captain, crew and naturalists on board not only got us as close to the whales as is safe for them but also ran an interpretive commentary about the whales we were seeing. 


Our large catamaran, Alala proved a comfortable viewing platform, allowing everyone adequate space to move around and catch views of spouts, bubbles and flukes. With only about 60 passengers on board, we had inside seating, outside seating and standing room against the rails all around the boat. 

Catching good shots  of moving targets is challenging under the best of conditions, but couple that with a moving boat, a slow camera and slower yet reflexes on the part of the photographer, and it is a miracle I was able to catch any pictures at all! 
Humpback whales migrate from the cold arctic waters around Alaska and beyond where they feed all summer, to the warm shallow waters of the tropics where they spend their winters having babies and making whoopie before making the long trek back in the late spring. Females are promiscuous, always choosing the strongest, most virile male as their mate for the next offspring. 

Sometimes already pregnant again, they lead their newborn calves back to the Arctic, nursing them along the way, and teaching them feeding techniques once they arrive in the cold, nutrient rich waters of the higher latitudes. Females lose about 40 percent of their body weight during the migratory, birthing and mating process, making the return to the Arctic necessary for their survival. Bulking up over the summer, and gaining as much as 20,000 pounds, they bring their nearly yearling calves back to the tropics to teach them the route, kiss them good bye and get back to the business of mating or giving birth again. Most females only mate every 2-3 years, but scientists have occasionally observed super-moms that have mated 3 years in a row! Can you imagine giving birth to a 1500 pound baby??? Calves suckle about 50 gallons of milk each day! 

Humpbacks are identified by their distinct and unique markings on the underside of the fluke. We were occasionally able to see these markings:

There are websites which allow the identification of specific whales, if one is intersded in dedicating one time to such endeavors. One such website is: http://www.alaskahumpbacks.org/Catalog/25_50/25-50.htm. I looked for about 12 minutes but couldn't find this one. 
 When the whale activity settled down and it was nearly time to return to shore, a crew member dropped a hydrophone into the water. Silence replaced the jabber of whale watchers, as we listened in wonder to the song of creatures we could not see. My phone voice memo won't load onto blogger, so if you want to hear a real time whale song, click here: http://livewhales.com. 

Whale watching is just one of the many ways to enjoy this beautiful island, and if you do decide to give it a try while you are visiting here, consider Ocean Adventures. We had two wonderful experiences with them. 


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Where is the sun?

This is our fourth winter trip to the Big Island in as many years, and the coolest and least sunny of all. There is always a little haze to be expected on this side of the island, due to the vog (volcanic smog) that blows across from Kilauea when the wind blows from the southeast. But this year, we have had more cloud cover than usual, which keeps the temperatures down, making pool time less desirable and a light sweater a necessary wardrobe addition. 

Strong surf warnings interrupted our snorkle schedule on Friday, as swimming against the current was difficult. The short amount of time we were able to be in the water, though, allowed sightings of a dozen or more different types of fish, a myriad of colors, shapes and sizes. A juvenile needle fish even turned and looked at me, eyeball to eyeball! 

From the dinner deck of Sam Choys restaurant, we oohed and aahed over a beautiful sunset as it changed from soft peach and mauve to brilliant orange and red. Almost as if the tiki torch was adding fire to the sky! 


Yesterday, we trekked to the wet, rainy, east side of the island and were greeted by brilliant sunshine and a beautiful day enjoying a small fraction of the attractions there. The Hilo farmers market sports about 200 vendors, neatly divided into sections of food, and food related items, artists and craftsmen, souvenir goods, and a small food court. 
Neatly wielding his machete, this fellow was selling fresh coconut milk, conveniently packaged in its own container, untouched by human hands. All you need is a straw! 
This strange fruit is called a pineapple something or another.  Possibly a type of dragon fruit or bread fruit. And Jason was all smiles as he demonstrated and hawked his wiki wiki! As seen on TV - a one size fits all kitchen tool! 
Of course, we bought one, and he threw in two additional tools for making julienne and grating everything from carrots to papaya! 

After lunch we went our separate ways, the guys to the Pacific Tsunami Museum, Judi wandering shops and I went hunting for a ceramics gallery ( surprise)! Reconvening at the parking lot we loaded into the car and headed for Rainbow Falls.
If you don't see the rainbow, it's because it isn't there. Apparently we would have needed to be there in the morning, and this shot was taken about 2 in the afternoon. The falls make an 80 foot drop into a sea green pool, but due to a low flow this time of year, they were a little less than spectacular. The sun was lovely and warm, and the giant philodendrons made a great backdrop for a picture of us. 

The final stop for our day was at the 9600 ft visitor center for the Mauna Kea international telescope site on the summit. The road beyond was closed to vehicle traffic due to icy roads and a 10 ft snow pack on the way up. 
We discovered we can drive back  up to the visitor center on a clear night and see the universe thru large telescopes. The sun was strong this March afternoon at 9600 feet! We found it! 
13,900 ft Mauna Kea in the distance!