Awareness (click here to see full story)

The Research Team left Lahaina Harbor just before 8 am on September 27, 2012.  Our last field day ended with no odontocete sightings (though we must remember that zero is important distribution data), so hopes were high for some exciting encounters this time.

We had completed several transect lines and were half way through another when dorsal fins were seen ahead.  After collecting our initial sighting data, we crept in to get a closer look.  While approaching, it was overwhelming the number of spotted dolphin dorsal fins surfacing at one time.  Spread over a half mile, these spotted dolphins were traveling south at a quickened pace.  Frigate birds circled overhead while petrels dove in to steal fish.  A few dolphins cruising past our vessel had wounds representing circular chunks of flesh removed by cookie cutter sharks and several calves were noted testing their leaping abilities.

Nearing the end of our encounter, a very large splash was seen nearly 500 yards outside the edge of the spotted dolphin pod.  Curious to investigate this mysterious splash, our path angled toward the white froth.  As we approached the area, a dorsal fin surfaced that could only belong to a false killer whale!  We diverted our course to pursue this false killer whale and realized we were in fact following one animal.  There were no other false killer whales seen in any direction.  We collected both right and left dorsal fin photos of this individual to compare against our photo-identification catalog, and then headed back toward our transects.

It was not until after our day on the water I realized that if our captain had not noticed that splash, we would have completely missed an amazing encounter and valuable distribution data.  This situation reminded me that it is easy to get focused so strongly on what is directly in front of us (especially when there are dolphins) that we miss things going on around us.  Mahalo to our captain and that lone false killer whale for reminding me of the importance of awareness!