Whale Songs

Dances with Whales. Photo actually taken in Tonga. Courtesy of the artist.

Pacific Humpback Whales are truly native Hawaiians—many of them were conceived and born in Hawaiian waters. The Humpbacks spend most of the year in the waters off the Alaska coast and in the Inside Passage where they feed. The waters there are rich in plankton, which is their primary food. Typically, in October and November they begin traveling south to warmer waters. They can be seen all along the Western US coast but particularly around Monterrey during this period of migration. They eventually end in Mexico, along the Baha coast, and in Hawaii where they spend the winter months. It is here where the whales mate and birth their young. The best times to see the whales is toward the end of January to the beginning of March each year. This is the time the whales are most active and can often be seen breaching (jumping) close to the shoreline. The baby whales have grown to the point that they can jump and play. Often, they will breech 10 or more times in rapid succession. Naturally curious, they will approach boats. When the ocean is calm, the mothers tend to keep the babies close to shore—usually within 100 yards or so—where there is more protection from predators. A mother and baby tend to travel with one or more “escort” males who are typically felt NOT to be the babies’ father.

The best places in Hawaii to see the whales are in the areas off of Maui towards Lanai and off the Kona and Kohala Coasts on the Big Island. See the map above to identify these areas. Living on the Big Island, we often see 30 to 40 whales (identified by their spouts) just off the coast near Kua Bay–just North of the KOA airport. Mothers often take their newborn babies into Kailua Bay and stay nearly motionless for hours (“logging”) with the newborn balancing on the mother’s snout.

Much has been speculated about the Humpback “song” (whale songs) but not much is truly known for sure. It does seem that the males are certainly the noisiest. Most of the scientists feel that the song is likely a mating ritual–it does sound as though they are in serious pain at times! Some persons have noted that the songs seem to change each year. If you listen to the sound clips, you can see that they are often high pitched and at times sound almost like cows. These clips were taken with use of an underwater microphone (Hydrophone).

This clip was taken just off the coast of Lana’i in March 2015. A group of whales with their young were directly under our boat. It was so loud that they could be heard even without the Hydrophone:

Whale sounds recorded off the coast of Lana’i in 2014. They sound almost like cows!

This clip was taken off the Kona Coast in 2015:

These voices are much more high pitched. With use of a hydrophone, the sounds can be heard over a mile away.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

Common Name: Hawaiian Monk Seal

Scientific Name: Neomonachus schauinslandi

Type: Mammals

Diet: Carnivores

Group Name: Colony, rookery

Average life span in The Wild: 25 to 30 years

Size: Length, 7.5 ft

Weight: 500 to 610 lbs

About the Hawaiian Monk Seal

(from National Geographic)

Most seals are at home in frigid waters, but the Hawaiian monk seal is a rare tropical exception.

Habitat

Hawaiian monk seals live in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These small islands and atolls are either uninhabited or little-used by humans. They are also surrounded with teeming coral reefs, which serve as great foraging grounds for skilled seals to swim and dive for fish, spiny lobsters, octopuses, and eels. Monk seals spend most of their time at sea, but come ashore to rest on beaches and even utilize fringe vegetation as shelter from storms.

Friendly (?) Monk Seal underwater. Photo Courtesy of esteemed diver, Barry Fackler.

Pregnant Monk seal on the beach at O’oma

Etymology

The monk seal is named for its folds of skin that somewhat resemble a monk’s cowl, and because it is usually seen alone or in small groups. Hawaiians call the seal `Ilio holo I ka uaua, which means, “dog that runs in rough water.”

Parenting

Mother monk seals are dedicated and remain with their pups constantly for the first five or six weeks of their lives. They don’t eat during this challenging time and may lose hundreds of pounds.

Threats to Survival

Like the other species of warm-water monk seals, the Mediterranean and Caribbean monk seals, the Hawaiian monk seal has a tenuous grasp on survival. The Caribbean monk seal, in fact, is believed to have been extinct since the 1970s.

Humans have moved into many of the desirable coastal habitats that these animals once frequented, so open coastline is at a premium. Monk seals have also been victims of fisheries, though they are usually accidental bycatch and not a targeted species. Sharks also prey on these seals, and males sometimes kill females of their own species in group attacks called “mobbing.”

Today, Hawaiian monk seals are threatened and, although many protection efforts are in place, their numbers have continually dwindled over the years.

The Legend of Naupaka

The Legend of Naupaka

The Half flower of Hawaii

Once upon a time in ancient Hawaii lived a beautiful princess named Naupaka. She was loved by everyone who knew her because she was just as kind as she was beautiful. One day while walking along the beach, Naupaka encountered a handsome fisherman named Kaui. When their eyes met, he smiled and told her his name was Kaui. It was love at first sight.

Realizing that she was royalty and Kaui a common fisherman, Princess Naupaka knew that she was prohibited from marrying him. She rushed to one of the Kupunas (elders) in the village who was well known for her wisdom. As Naupaka described her love for Kaui, the Kupuna sadly shook her head and said “I cannot help you for your marriage to Kaui is prohibited by Hawaiian custom. Your only hope is to see the high priest and ask his permission.”

Naupaka and Kaui travelled for days over beautiful mountains, forests, valleys, and streams in search of the high priest. Once they finally found him they excitedly revealed their love for one another to him and asked if he could allow them to marry. The priest told them “I can see that you have great love for each other but I cannot give permission for you to marry as that decision can only come from the Gods. You must pray to them until you receive an answer.” As they began to pray, dark clouds came overhead and a fierce rain fell upon them. Lightning struck nearby and thunder boomed. Princess Naupaka realized that the Gods would not allow them to marry and tore the flower from her hair and ripped it in half. She gave half to Kaui and said to him: “We cannot be together. You must go back to the ocean where you can fish. I will live the rest of my life on this mountain alone.”

As the two lovers separated, the Naupaka plants that grew nearby saw how sad they were. Even the flowers mourned to see the young lover’s hearts broken so badly. As a memorial to their love, when the Naupaka flower blooms, it only blooms in halves.  Today, there are two varieties of the Naupaka, one growing near the sea called Naupaka Kahakai, the other in the mountain is called Naupaka Kauihiwa. Each bear what appears to be half of a blossom and when placed together, they form a perfect flower. It is said that the lovers can be reunited when the flower of the Naupaka Kauihiwi and the Naupaka Kahakai are joined together after they have been picked.

Naupaka “half blossom”

There are different versions of the Naupaka legend, but all carry the same theme of lovers that are separated forever—one banished to the mountains, the other to the ocean. We named this condo the “Naupaka Hale” or Home of the Naupaka in honor of this legend. Watch for the Naupaka along the ocean front. Visit the higher elevations and find the opposite flower to join.

There are many versions of this story that are published in various formats. This is a compilation of the aspects that I like best.

David Kwiat