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Eye Of The Whale…Where Eye–to-Eye Encounters take on a whole new dimension…
Having named my whale watching company and subsequently our non-profit research group Eye Of The Whale, I have always been intrigued by the eye to eye connection between species…and for me there is nothing more penetrating at a deep conscious level, than when there is eye to eye contact with whales or dolphins.
Unless you have the fortune of having close encounters with whales underwater, most of our encounters are above water. Some of the most rare and exhilarating ones are when a whale breaches or spy hops in close proximity to you. Because eye to eye encounters are so captivating, I have gone through many efforts to learn more about the whales’ behavior during these events, in hopes they are gazing back.
As it turns out when whales breach or spy hop, their eyes are open as they lunge out of the water. Their eyes are intently focused on you or your vessel as they twirl through the air, until just before impact back on the water, where it appears they close them. This occurs with calves as well as adults. They are indeed looking back!! Are they just as intrigued with us as we are with them? I have posted a series of these “eyes open” breaches in the Best Of gallery.
Eye of The Whale Adventures Summary:
Eye Of The Whale Adventures LLC was a whale watching tour company based out of Kawaihae Harbor (KH), working off of a 30 foot RAIV (rigid aluminum inflatable vessel), As a 30+ year experienced field marine biologist, marine mammal observer and photo-ID specialist, I was the interpreter on board.
The following is a summary of the sightings, general location and some anecdotal findings I made. I am only including one trip per day based on highest number of whales seen by trip, not both trips to eliminate possible re sightings . My numbers per trip are fairly accurate without re sightings based on my experience and photo-id.
Tours started Jan. 4th 2007 and ended April 5th 2007 with a total of 71 days of operation out of a possible 91 days during this time period. We saw whales every trip. Non operational days were due to either a policy to not work on Sundays, bad weather or boat maintenance. Trips were conducted twice a day from for 2.5 hrs each, starting at 9:00am and ending at 3:00 pm. The primary area of sightings hence operation was along the coast within ¼ mile out to 2 miles offshore between Red Hill and the south end of Puako Bay (about 5 miles across as the crow flies, or within 2-3 miles on either side of Kawaihae Harbor entrance), with the exception of 3 runs as far north as Blacks Point and 8 runs as far south as Mauna Lani Point (about 7 miles apart as crow flies, or 3-4 miles on either side of KH) and 2 runs as far out as 3 miles from Kawaihae Harbor.
The first cow/calf sighting was Jan. 4th, the last was April 5th, however an incidental sighting was made as late as May 15th ( a cow/calf pair inside K H channel). In January, we had 20 operational days, with an average of 13-14 individual whales per day. Of these 20 days, we had 8 days in which we saw cow/calf pairs (cc), 5 days had sightings of whales within 400 yards of KH channel or even in the channel (one was a cc pair inside the channel) and 4 more days the whale sightings were within 1.5-2 miles of the harbor entrance. Therefore 9/20 days, whale sightings were within 2 miles of KH. This number is probably much higher as notes on location of whales was not taken every day.
In February, we had 23 operational days, with an average of 11-12 whales per day. Of these 23 days, we had 19 days in which we saw cow/calf pairs, 12 days had sightings within 400 yards of KH (one was a cc pair inside the channel) and 10 more days the whale sightings were within 1.5- 2 miles of the harbor. Therefore 22/23 days whale sightings were within 2 miles of the harbor.
In March, we had 24 operational days with an average of 9-10 whales per day. Of these 24 days, we had 17 days in which we saw cow/calf pairs , 20 days had sightings within 400 yards of KH (11 of these days were cow/calf pairs) and one more day the whale sighting was within 1.5-2 miles of the harbor. Therefore 21/24 days whale sightings were within 2 miles of the harbor.
In April we had 4 days of operation, with an average of 4-5 whales per day. All 4 days had cow/calf pairs and all the sightings were within 500 yards of KH.
In summary, out of 71 days of operation, cow/calf pairs were seen 48 days (66%), we had 41 days (58%) of whale sightings within 400 yards of Kawaihae Harbor channel, and 56 days ( 79%) of whale sightings within 1.5-2 miles of the Harbor entrance, with an average of 10-11 whales seen per day. This implies that the area immediately around the KH entrance is an area of high whale and cow/calf concentration. On a few instances, a whale was photo identified without a calf, only to be seen days or even weeks later with a new calf in the same general area (see fluke catalog). This also suggests very close range sight fidelity calving grounds.