A Whale Of A Tale Off Makaha

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - January 19, 2011
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A 40-foot whale shark says hello to his little friend Patrick Moniz

When Patrick Moniz left Las Vegas for a trip home to the Islands for the holidays, he never imagined he’d return with a whale of tale to share with family and friends ... literally.

It was a Sunday morning and the Hilo native was looking forward to enjoying a dolphin tour off the Waianae coast with his wife, children and several members of his family, on a boat owned by Kaimi Pelekai of Real Hawaii Tours. Little did Moniz know, Mother Nature was about to give them an adventure they’d never forget.

“We headed toward Makaha Beach where we found four pods of dolphins,” recalls Moniz. “We were in the ocean for a few minutes when out of nowhere a big, black, dark creature slowly crept up on us.”

At first the group didn’t know what it was until their captain, Pelekai, told them it was a whale shark! The gentle giant was estimated to be nearly 40 feet long. Moniz says he initially feared for his life, and that feeling intensified as the massive animal moved closer.

“It was scary seeing this big, spotted shadow coming at you,” recalls Moniz. “It circled around three times and then it bumped the boat. After doing a few more circles, it changed direction and came straight at me!”

Moniz says everyone on the boat watched in amazement as the whale shark seemed to play with him. He could hear his children laughing and the rest of his family screaming with excitement about the unexpected ocean encounter. Moniz, however, was experiencing a far different emotion.

“For some reason it liked me,” Moniz says with a hint of tension. “I thought it was going to pass me, but no matter where I went it kept coming back. At first all I saw were bubbles in front of my face, then I see this 40-foot-long monster just a couple of feet away with its mouth wide open. I understand they eat plankton, but it scared the crap out of me!”

The whale shark is the biggest fish in the sea. Whale shark sightings are rare in Hawaii, although there have been dozens through the years including several near Makaha Beach. The gigantic animal is a filter feeder. They mainly eat macro-algae, plankton and other small sea creatures - certainly not humans.

Kelly Wright says the whale shark’s skin is like sandpaper

“All I know is when its mouth was open it could have swallowed me if it wanted to,” laughs Moniz. “I’m 6-2 and 340 pounds, but that thing made me look small. My family and my kids all thought it was funny, and my brother-in-law was even humming the theme from Jaws, but I was panicking because this thing was swimming at me and with me.”

You certainly can’t blame Moniz for his nervousness. The whale shark has rows of teeth, although they aren’t used for eating. Instead, they suck in water then release the water through their gills. During this process, plankton or other creatures are trapped and consumed.

Kelly Wright works as a photographer on another tour boat operated by Ko Olina Ocean Adventure. She too got the chance to experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a whale shark.

“I would definitely say this is the most amazing experience I’ve ever had,” says Wright. “I’ve been lucky to see and photograph manta rays, false killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins and even a humpback whale in the water, but this takes the cake! The experience was probably over in about 10 minutes. I wish we could’ve stayed with him for much longer. I was able to touch him and he felt like sandpaper, which I expected. His movement was so graceful for such a large animal. They really are the gentle giants of the sea!”

“Capt. Pelekai was trying to tell all of us not to splash and take your fins off, but this one wasn’t scared of anything,” chuckles Moniz. “It was just curious. In fact, there’s a portion on the video that shows the whale surfacing, and it looks like he’s looking at everyone on the boat.”

Moniz says Pelekai told him the group was extremely lucky. Pelekai says in all of his years on the Leeward coast he had never seen anything like that before. He even joked with Moniz that the whale shark may have been his aumakua, or family god. Who knows?

“This massive whale shark stayed with me for about 10 to 15 minutes, then quietly swam away,” says Moniz. “It seems like he didn’t want to leave.”

A graceful giant that provided a lucky few with a moment they’ll never forget - and this is no fishing tale.

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