The Original Surfers (click here for full story)

The research team left Lahaina Harbor on September 13, 2012, to head to the area of transects lines randomly selected for the day.  On the way out of the harbor we couldn’t help but watch the surfers attempting to catch waves…   

Our first encounter was somewhat mysterious…a dorsal fin cresting the surface never to be seen again.  We searched for quite some time, yet the datasheet was left with an “Unknown” under species.  We continued on, and the next dorsal fin at the surface proved to belong to a short-finned pilot whale!!  (This second sighting occurred nearly 2 miles away from the “Unknown” discovery, so the research team still cannot say for sure what that first sighting truly was.)  We last saw pilot whales in July in the same general area, off the south-western end of Lana’i.  This sighting seemed to include 5 pilot whales spread over a half mile.  After several minutes this group disappeared much like the first encounter.  25 minutes later, another 5 pilot whales were observed, this time with a mom and calf pair (see photo).  An hour and a half of attempting transect lines passed and another 4 pilot whales were spotted heading the opposite direction (south) of the pilot whales in the last two sightings.  Either we were being stalked by a pod of pilot whales (wishful thinking) or, possibly, there was a very large group spread over miles and miles of water.  One of the only ways to know if we were seeing the same individuals repeatedly, will be by looking back and matching the dorsal fin images we took throughout all encounters.

After leaving this last group of pilot whales, it was determined the wind was limiting our ability to effectively look for odontocetes.  We began to head back towards Lahaina, but not without encountering a large pod of spinner dolphins on the way.  Usually when we spend time with Hawaiian spinner dolphins during the day they are in a restful state.  When we encountered this pod, the seas were rough and the spinners were leaping from wave to wave and demonstrating their skills as some of the original surfers.  It was beautiful to see their perfectly hydrodynamic bodies gracefully maneuvering through the waves.  As humans, we can only improvise pieces of foam and fiberglass with artificial fins to accomplish the rush dolphins must experience from surfing waves.  And yet, there is something about surfing that will continue to draw dolphins and humans alike to the crashing waves of the ocean.