Voggy Skies = Good Whale Watching

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - February 03, 2010
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Humpback whales are putting on a show at Makapuu

Recent light southwesterly winds have wreaked havoc on air quality and breathing for many Hawaii residents. But with the vog come amazing sunsets, and if you’re a true “my cup is half full” person, there are other treasures that surface when our tradewinds are blocked by cold fronts.

The southwesterly wind also makes for calm ocean conditions on Oahu’s eastern shoreline and presents many opportunities to watch nature come alive.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 humpback whales make the long trek to the Islands from the North Pacific Ocean. A majority of them migrate to Hawaii during the winter months, from November through May, and this year is no different.

But recently the daily shows off Makapuu and the Lanai Lookout have been absolutely phenomenal.


 

“What was really nice about the light winds is they create perfect conditions to watch a mother and her calf glide through the blue water,” says longtime environmentalist Carroll Cox, one of many who have captured amazing images of the humpbacks in action. “These beautiful animals are coming within 25 to 100 yards from us sitting at the Lanai Lookout.”

The venue is always there and so are the stars of the show, but the calm ocean conditions have provided opportunities that aren’t always available.

“One day I counted five whales near the shore at one time,” recalls Cox. Three of them were slapping their tails at the same time. It was remarkable.”

And for some reason, when the ocean is quiet, the whales venture closer to the shoreline. The absence of sea mist and ocean sprays only enhance the spectacular views and photos. Cox says it’s as if the whales know they’re in the spotlight.

“I would say you can draw that conclusion. It almost seems like they look up at us at and then come a little closer,” says Cox with a laugh. “The mother was showing off her calf, and I think we had about 100 people at the lookout at one point snapping away at their cameras.”


Scientists say the annual migration made by humpback whales is one of the longest of any animal species at nearly 4,000 miles. While they are here, the whales spend much time mating and giving birth. And then it’s often showtime!

“This is a good statement about what we have here and a great opportunity for kids to see nature at its finest,” says Cox as he reflects on another recent incident involving a whale. “When I saw the whale carcass at Punaluu, I thought it was important to capture pictures of these magnificent animals in a way they’re supposed to be viewed.”

Cox says images of the humpback whales in Hawaiian waters remind him of the old days when the whaling industry drove Hawaii’s economy.

“But after all of that, they’re still here,” says Cox. “To me, that speaks a lot about sanctuaries and preservation.”

February is Humpback Whale Awareness Month, and there are several sanctuary events planned for those who wish to participate in the annual effort to count the endangered species.

“When you see them dance on the water you realize this is why we should keep our ocean clean,” says Cox. “And it really doesn’t cost anything - just respect, and that’s free.”

There is often a silver lining in challenging times - a tradeoff, if you will, and that includes when the vog settles in. So the next time the winds are light and the vog is thick, head out to East Oahu and view nature up close. The stars of the show will be waiting, and chances are you’ll have a front-row seat.

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