Summer Whalewatching in Hawaii: Part Two
On a summer morning in Hawaii, the sun rises a little after 6:00. This past Saturday, I set my alarm for 4:00. In the morning. So early that my dogs didn’t even bother to get up and race for the door. By 4:30, I was heading down Kuhio Highway under the dark cover of a heavy sky for Kikiaola Harbor, some 38 miles away, on the other side of the island of Kauai. Might as well have been the other side of the world. That’s how it felt to me at that hour, entombed in the quiet of my rushing car, before birds—O.K. roosters—started their morning chorus. I looked for a moon and realized it must be the new moon. Nothing but darkness. I looked for stars and remembered the forecast for early morning showers across inland Kauai.
This weekend marked the beginning of inaugural day of research
, I was invited back on Saturday. It was to be the 600th day on the water over 12 years in Hawaii for Cascadia Research.
In the intervening 10 days, the team had spotted, gathered tissue samples and photo-identified numerous individuals from several groups of rough-toothed dolphins. They’d also encountered their largest group of bottlenose dolphins in Hawaii—200 individuals. The highlight of the trip thus far, though, had to be spending about an hour Anini Beach on Kauai. Three years ago this fall, a sub-adult stranded off Brennecke’s Beach and was euthanized.
I didn’t expect to see killer whales on Saturday, but I hoped we’d sight any one of these, primarily, off-shore whales: short-finned pilot whale, melon-headed whale, pygmy killer whale, false killer whale, Cuvier’s beaked whale or Blainville’s beaked whale. If we did, the team would—ocean conditions permitting—“tag” one or more of these individuals with a satellite instrument about the size of a sleek cell phone car mount antenna and nicknamed “precious” for its price tag. That was the purpose of the research. By tagging these species, Robin Baird and team hope to collect information on movement patterns and begin to understand the possible effect of the Navy’s use of sonar on these marine mammals.
I followed the one main road around Kauai. I passed Small Town Coffee in Kapaa. Closed. Java Kai. Closed. Starbucks. Closed. Kuhio Highway turned into Kaumualii Highway in Lihue. I passed Wal-Mart. Closed. Hilo Hattie’s. Closed. I made the rise past Kalaheo Café & Coffee Co. about 5:20 a.m. Closed. I slowed for a truck to pull over and park at the trailhead for the west side surf spot known as Pakala. And I followed two trucks pulling fishing boats into Kikiaola Harbor in Waimea.
Robin, Daniel, Jess, Renee, Elisa, David and I made quick work of the stack of gear on the dock, loading it onto the Wild Whale research vessel and cinching it down to make a run for the lively breakwater outside the mouth of the harbor. A SSE swell was going down but one from the SSW was replacing it—hence the surfers at Pakala. Steady winds from the ESE had plagued the researchers all week, adding to wave height and making the going rough. I took my insurance—Bonine—the night before and upon rising.
Renee briefed my on my assignment. I was to sit port side and scan the water from 6:00 to 12:00 every five seconds and call out any splashes, blows or breaches I saw. I strapped on my binoculars and stabled myself for the exit out of the harbor. A light rain began to fall. Robin captained the boat, testing its gears and lining us up for the run. I grabbed a rail at my side, as Robin revved the engine.
Then, he turned the boat around. A throttle cable had snapped. The boat wasn’t going anywhere. Except back to the mechanic. (I don't know who was more disappointed. Robin the researcher or Don the mechanic.)
“Maybe it’s me,” I said after we’d unloaded the boat.
“Maybe it is,” Robin said. But he invited me back for tomorrow, anyway.
I pointed my car for home at 6:55 a.m. The husband might up by now, I thought. Maybe even the dogs. But I waited to call.
And, so, instead of my tale, enjoy this video introducing the Blenny Hunters: