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Planning a visit to Kauai? We regularly add news and information about events, activities, and places to see on The Garden Isle.

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Sheila Heathcote has lived in Hawaii since 1986. She's a published author on the topic of Kauai and the owner of Hale O Nanakai Bed & Breakfast.

« Waimea Town Celebration -- Feb 18 - 25, 2012 | Main | Secret Treasures of the Maha'u'lepu coastline »

Humpback Whale Season is in full swing

LIHU‘E — While taking off from the Lihu‘e Airport on Friday afternoon, a tour pilot and his guests spotted a whale inside Hanama‘ulu Bay.

Ellen Coulombe of Wings Over Kaua‘i responded after being notified of the 1 p.m. sighting and called Mimi Olry, the Kaua‘i Marine Mammal Response Specialist for the Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“The mother and baby whale were moving slowly in the waters just out the jetty, staying on the surface, bobbing up and down, but never diving,” Coulombe said in an email. “Rob Thayer, who moved to Kaua‘i just two years ago, said he had been filming the pair and noted they had moved in and out of the bay at least once, but had remained on the surface most of the time.”

Jean Souza, Kaua‘i Programs Coordinator for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, said mother-and-calf whales are known to visit areas of shallow water, and during these visits, are not known to dive. She was notified by Olry and was at the Ahukini State Park parking lot observing the crowd that had gathered to view the whales.

“Whales, especially mothers and calves, sometimes visit shallow water,” Souza said, “but to have a visit at Ahukini is rare.”

Olry said several of the viewers were concerned something was wrong with the whales.

“After observing them, it was clear they were not in distress,” Olry said. “They were resting. Mother humpback whales with calves often prefer shallow, protected, near-shore areas and as a result, we’re seeing them resting in places like Hanama‘ulu, or Koloa Landing.”

Olry said the pair stayed for a couple of hours, sometimes submerging for a time and resting.

“The calf entertained all who were viewing. It was playing and slapping its pectoral fins, breaching and rolling onto the top of the mother,” she said.

She estimated the calf to be about 15 feet long and the mother to be about 45 feet.

“Since the mother’s topline was almost all which was observed, everyone was amazed when she ‘pec slapped,’ and ‘pec waved’ her large white 15-foot pectoral fin, people getting an idea of how large she was,” Olry said.

Coulombe said she joined Olry in watching the calf and mother at the Ahukini site.

“We watched them until 4 p.m., at which time the pair returned to the bay and a large crowd formed,” Coulombe said. “At that time, directly in front of us, the mother began slapping the water with her pectoral fin (pec slapping), the baby started breaching followed by the mother breaching. For more than five minutes, they put on a glorious show together, breaching one after the other as if a game was being played, the keiki on the jetty laughing and calling to them. The baby whaled appeared to respond, breaching even higher in what looked like pure delight.”

Olry said she left around 4:30 p.m. to check on a reported seal sighting and Coulombe said people pretty much left about 5 p.m.

The whales were still in the vicinity.

All whales, dolphins and seals are protected by NOAA Fisheries Service under the Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Humpback whales, sperm whales, monk seals and sea turtles are further protected by NOAA Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and by the state’s DLNR under Hawai‘i State Law.

Federal regulations prohibit approaching humpback whales within 100 yards when on or in the water, and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft. This regulation applies to all ocean users year-round throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

So the best way to see whales is by taking a ride on the Wings Over Kauai fleet of aircraft, which will get you up close and personal with these amazing leviathans Call (808) 635-0815.