An Unlikely Encounter (365:39)

December 22 (day 39 of my Project 365) was packed full of seafaring adventures. It began in search of whales and ended with snorkeling at night with graceful (and huge!) manta rays.

The manta story will have to wait, however, until I get the film from my underwater camera developed.

We boarded Captain Dan McSweeney’s boat for our three hour whale watch tour with a dozen or so others at 7 AM. The plan was to go out to the deeper waters first in order to find some of the resident species such as false killer whales, pilot whales, or beaked whales. Then we would travel to shallower waters where the recently arrived humpbacks are most likely found. But after about an hour of searching the horizon for a spout or a dorsal fin, I was beginning to wonder what the policy was if we didn’t see a thing.

Then Captain Dan’s cell phone rang. The captain of a charter fishing boat told him about a “bunch of humpbacks” that were several miles further out. As he steered the boat to even deeper waters, he explained to us that he didn’t know what we would find. It’s extremely unusual for humpbacks to be that far away from shore and the safety of shallower water.

About 30 minutes pass before we reach the fishing vessel that reported the sighting. A fin broke through the surface and Captain Dan informed us that it’s a humpback on its side and the tip of its tail. But then a few more similar fins emerged and a couple others spouted. Even I could tell these were not humpbacks.

Captain Dan has spent over 20,000 hours on these waters off Hawaii. He’s spent the last three decades researching whales all over the world. So, when I heard him utter these next words, I knew this was something unique, “Hang on…I don’t know what these are! Someone grab the whale ID chart.”

But after just a few more moments of observing them closer he didn’t need the chart. They were a very rare species called a Bryde’s whale (pronounced broo’-dis). In all the time he’s spent studying whales he’s only seen this species once near New Zealand.

(Click on the photos below to view them larger)

During our long journey back to the marina (we were almost 14 miles offshore), they passed around some food for us to share and a couple of books on whales. One entry stated that a Bryde’s whale is commonly mistaken for a sei or a fin whale and are seldom found in a herd.

So I asked him about that as we disembarked. Apparently he could identify them by the way that they were surfacing. And the fact that they are seldom found in a herd? He simply stated, “That certainly looked like a herd to me.”

Well, that’s good enough for me. After all, who am I to dispute someone who’s spent 19,997 more hours on these waters than I have?

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