Humpbacks arrive fashionably early off Kohala Coast

  • The tail of a humpback whale flips out of the water off the coast of Hawaii in this photo date unknown. Capt. Jeff Baker was ferrying a party of 29 snorkelers and four crew members up the Kohala Coast a little after noon on Sunday when he looked south over his shoulder and witnessed two humpback whales traveling in unison. (AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries)

KAILUA-KONA — Capt. Jeff Baker was ferrying a party of 29 snorkelers and four crew members up the Kohala Coast a little after noon on Sunday when he looked south over his shoulder and witnessed a familiar ocean spray.

There was no breach, but the dual spouts were unmistakable — two humpback whales traveling in unison.

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“They were teenagers,” Baker said. “It wasn’t a 15-18 foot spout, it was more like an 8-10 footer. There were two together, and they were breathing fairly rhythmically. They both spouted at the same time.”

“It caught my eye, and then they came up for probably three or four different breaths,” he added.

Baker and his crew’s sighting of the migrant mammals on the Sunday Ocean Sports Snorkel Adventure Cruise was the first of the season reported in West Hawaii waters, caught roughly 300 yards offshore just north of Kiholo Bay.

Baker said he typically catches his first glimpse of a humpback in mid-late November.

“It was pretty cool,” he added. “It’s a little bit early for them, but I’m glad we spotted them.”

While the whales’ arrival may have been a bit soon for Hawaii Island in Baker’s estimation, the first humpback sighting of the season throughout the islands actually happened almost a month before.

The Pacific Whale Foundation on Maui told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that Capt. Aaron Bement, who skippers the Ocean Explorer, glimpsed and then recorded footage of a humpback whale roughly 2.4 miles north of Molokini on the morning of Oct. 8.

According to the foundation, initial sightings tend to occur in October. Last year’s first sighting was reported on Oct. 9. Its earliest sighting in the past two decades came on Sept. 16, 2000, while the latest occurred five years later on Nov. 11, the foundation told the Star-Advertiser.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, conducts an annual Sanctuary Ocean Count project. The count is convened on the final Saturdays of December, January and February.

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The Sanctuary is seeking volunteers to help conduct the count on the islands of Hawaii, Oahu and Kauai from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on the three Saturdays of operation.

Those interested can find more information at https://hawaiihumpbackwhale.noaa.gov.