On my volunteer days at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge during the summer, I am often asked, “When do the whales come back?”
What people really mean is, “When are the humpback whales in Hawaiian waters?” And the answer to that question is November through April.
But there are more than just humpback whales in Hawaii.
It is 82 degrees and sunny outside in Hawaii today. There’s a diminishing swell coming out of the south and choppy wind waves coming out of the east, due to 10 to 20 knot trades. And I was supposed to be on a boat searching for whales. Order: Cetacea. Suborder: Odontoceti. Species: False killer, short-finned pilot, melon-headed, pygmy killer, Cuvier’s beaked and Blainville’s beaked whales.
Many of these species are primarily pelagic. That is, they spend their time in the deeper, off-shore waters of Hawaii. As such, scientists know very little about them—their numbers, their foraging behavior, their primary habitat. And we landlubbers rarely get a peak at them—not from coastal ranging tour boats, not with binoculars, not through our snorkel masks.
Six years ago, nearly 200 melon-headed whales stranded in Hanalei Bay. And that’s when I learned about the controversy over the Navy's use of sonar in our marine environment. The field work in which I was asked to help is being orchestrated by Cascadia Research and involves tagging these odontocetes with satellite devices. The idea is to monitor their movement and habitat use before, during and after the Navy’s upcoming Submarine Commanders Course training scheduled for next month.
I’ve never seen a false killer whale. Nor a short-finned pilot whale. Neither have I seen a melon-headed or pygmy killer whale. No to the Cuvier’s beaked and Blainville’s beaked whales, too. Yet.
I was hoping to today.
But the boat broke.
And, so, this morning, I am writing about the research, instead of participating in it.