Saturday, December 26, 2015

Turtle, Shark, Ray- The Snorkel Trifecta in Maui

  One of the amazing parts of taking a boat between the Hawaiian islands on this amazing Un-Cruise itinerary is the ability to see how unique the islands are both above and below the water. This past week we snorkeled near the southernmost point of the United States, at night with manta rays, on a partially submerged volcanic crater, and over the wreckage left behind from a huge hurricane back in the early 90's. It was among this wreckage of the old Mala Pier off Maui's west side that we completed the snorkel wildlife trifecta, turtle, shark, and a ray!
  Hawaiian green sea turtles often hover over the wreckage of Mala pier to let tangs and surgeonfish have a chance to clean off their algae covered shells. The turtles hover a few feet over the wreckage and all of us would watch as fish would calmly swim up to grab a free meal as they cleaned off the turtle's shell.

   The wreckage also provides a hiding spot for resting white tip reef sharks. Scuba divers sometimes find these sharks sitting on the bottom, under the wreckage, waiting for nighttime to come out and hunt. I always hope to find one of these beautiful creatures here and was pleasantly surprised to see one actually swimming out and about. Luckily I had just sat everyone down the day before for a shark presentation called "The Truth About Sharks" so when the shark call came everyone booked it towards the shark instead of away!

  To complete the underwater trifecta a lone spotted eagle ray cruised in close to the wreckage. Many people got to see it calmly gliding over the sandy bottom that surrounds the wreckage. We get to swim with manta rays every week over in Kona, but this was the first spotted eagle ray we have seen yet this season.

  It is so much fun sharing this amazing underwater world with all of our guests. This week a huge family from Chicago had the whole boat to themselves. I was very impressed to see everyone jumping in the water, becoming so at home in a new environment, and by the end of the week some of them were free-diving down farther than me!

More turtle pictures here: Dai Mar's Underwater Photos: Turtles

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Searching for Offshore Odontocetes

  A weekly treat aboard the Safari Explorer's Hawaii itinerary is a chance to spend an afternoon cruising the deep offshore waters of the Big Island to search for different kinds of marine mammals. The underwater topography drops off to thousands of feet just a couple of miles off the Kona coast, and this is where very interesting odontocetes like pilot whales, spotted dolphins, sperm whales, false killer whales, beaked whales, and other rare encounters are most likely.
  We were lucky this week on our search as our chief mate Amy spotted some splashing over where a few fishing boats were maneuvering. As we crept in to investigate it became apparent that we had a huge pod of active pan-tropical spotted dolphins most likely going after the same fish the fishermen were. The dolphins wasted no time in zipping over to our vessel to ride the bow wave and our wake just behind the boat. I had a great time trying to time the shutter just right to catch the dolphins right as they would leap up out of the water.

 After a while the spotted dolphins continued on their way and we settled back into search mode. It was only a half an hour later when another species was sighted, this time is was short-fin pilot whales. This pod seemed content with slowly swimming and sometimes logging at the surface with their large dorsal fins sticking out. These toothed whales can be up to 18ft and can swim fast enough to catch large tuna. They are one step down from orca as top predators in the ocean.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Manta Ray Night Snorkel in Kona

  Every week I like to push the guests to try something new and to embrace new adventures. Traveling with Un-Cruise here in Hawaii can be filled with these new experiences. It is not uncommon for our guests to be on the more adventurous side already, but one excursion that usually puts people a little more out of their comfort zone is the night snorkel with manta rays.

A Hawaiian Flagtail Fish 
Manta in the Night Lights
  It all starts with a warm up snorkel to make sure everyone who will go out at night has already gotten used to their gear and being in the ocean. Then during dinner we bring in a manta ray expert, usually Ian or Katie from Kona Dive Company, to talk about manta rays and answer questions.
  As soon as dinner wraps up we head out on the back deck to get into wetsuits, snorkel gear, and wrist glow-lights. Then we load up into our skiffs and motor a few hundred yards over to the manta snorkel area. From here six or so guest will jump in and surround a special surf board with a huge underwater light attached. I or one of the other guides will pull the board over to the 'campfire' which is an accumulation of lights set up by one of the dive companies hoping to attract plankton, which will in turn attract manta rays.
    So far this season the manta rays are getting better and better with more and more showing up each week. It can vary day to day but we have seen rays every time. If we are lucky the rays will slowly drift up to our group and then feed in the light emanating from the surfboard. It can be one of the best wild animal encounters in the world when this happens. Just imagine a 12ft, harmless, majestic manta ray performing a ballet of barrel rolls inches under you. Or maybe 2 manta rays...

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bowriding Bottlenose in Hawaii

  It is December and the humpback whales are still scarce here in Hawaiian waters but are on their way from their feeding grounds in Alaska. In the meantime we are having a blast with the year round resident dolphins that call Hawaii home. Large groups of spinner dolphins show up along the coast, pilot whales can be seen a few miles off the Big Island, and a few good encounters with Tursiops truncatus, bottlenose dolphins, have delighted the guest.
   Without the ship changing course or speed these bottlenose dolphins swam over to the Safari Explorer and delighted the guests by bowriding the pressure wave created by the moving ship. Passengers were squealing with delight which mixed in perfectly with the squeaks and squeals coming from the dolphins. And as we looked down at the dolphins one would occasionally turn and swim on its side, looking right back up at us.

        Dolphin and Whale Pictures 

Here's Looking at You

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Rare Encounter with a Pelagic Jellyfish

Rare Encounter with a Pelagic Jellyfish, Maui, Hawaii
  A rare encounter with a pelagic jellyfish occurred off the southern coast of Maui last week. We spotted it while at anchor on the Safari Explorer. Someone spotted something colorful about five feet under the surface. We could see it was a big jellyfish but it was until I jumped in that I could see all the juvenile fish that were making the bell and tentacles of the jellyfish home. I only had a point and shoot underwater camera but it was good enough to capture these images of the rare encounter.

I had my friend Amy take a picture as I dove down next to the jelly to give a size reference 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fun Dive with Frogfish and Turtles: Maui

Frogfish Camouflage
  I've been so busy the last week and a half working my new gig as expedition leader on the Un-Cruise Hawaii itinerary that I have just now gotten around to going through some of my last dive photos from my week in Maui. I took my friend Jackie out for a stellar dive at one of my favorite spots, 5 Graves, off the South Maui coastline.

   I was pretty shocked that I didn't find any nudibranchs, usually it is a hotspot for those marine treasures, but we lucked out with two great frogfish sightings. It was funny watching Jackie shake her head, telling me she doesn't see what I am point at, until the last second when she separates the camouflaging frogfish from its environment. We see frogfish in all colors and sizes here in Hawaii, but these two were particularly beautiful. Since they trust their camouflaging ability so much they let me get very close in for a couple of good shots.

   The rest of the dive we focused on the charismatic megafauna that frequent the area, Hawaiian green sea turtles. We saw close to a dozen different turtles. Most of the turtles were dozing in underwater caves found in the lava rock underbelly of this dive site, but some were out hanging at the surface and swimming around on the hunt for algae. One turtle seemed to be determined to swim at it's own slow pace so I had Jackie swim next to it while snapping a couple of quick photos before letting it head off to an unknown destination.

Jackie and her green sea turtle

Is she trying to high five the turtle?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Top of Africa to Top of Maui

Hossmer's Grove
  With a powerful rental car hugging the windy road, and Nate and Kelly in tow with the wine and crackers, we sped up the road to the roof of Maui, the 10,023ft summit of Haleakala Volcano. It was late afternoon already and we wanted to get there in time to see the sunset. We ended up getting there rather quickly so we had time to stop for a few pictures on the way, plus a quick nature loop trail as Hossmer's Grove to find the rare endemic I'iwi, or scarlet honeycreeper.

Sunset behind the Telescopes
    When we got to the summit I was pleased to find no snow or freezing rain and just a little bit of wind. The temperature here often dips below freezing which really messes with your mind since the rest of island is bathed in 80 degree tropical heat year round. Coming up to the volcano has a way to transport you to a distant place far far away.

   We found a little nook out of the wind, cracked open the wine and crackers and sat back to enjoy another beautiful sunset. This place truly is the 'house of the sun.'


Wine and Cheese picnic

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Diving with Turtles and Corie on Maui's West Side

Mala Pier
 The sun was out and the wind was light as usual on Maui's west side. This bode well for a couple of scuba dives that I had planned to show off a bit of the Hawaiian underwater world to my friend Corie. The first spot we hit up was the wreckage of the old Mala pier, just north of Lahaina. This has always been one of my favorite sites to dive for underwater photography. The water here is almost always clear, the wreckage covered in beautiful coral, and charismatic megafauna abounds. 

Bleached Coral Head
 Imagine my surprise when I drop down and the first thing I see isn't clouds of fish, or turtles, or beautiful is a big vibrant white coral. It had almost entirely bleached. There has been a lot of news surrounding Maui lately with the increase in water temperature leading to mass bleaching events around the island. This happens whenever something like increased water temperature, sedimentation, acidification stresses the coral causing it to expel all of its color giving and food providing commensal algae, called zooxanthellae. If the stress is relieved then the algae can recolonize the coral. That is what I ham hoping happens here. Right now it looks pretty bleak on Maui's reefs but only time will tell.

 After swimming a bit deeper the visibility increased, and the coral looked colorful and healthy. Then we got into the turtles. A couple of young turtles and a few big old guys hung out with us for the rest of the dive. They were all Hawaiian green sea turtles.

 The turtles weren't the only big critters on the reef this dive. Four white tip reef sharks were patrolling the wreckage.

  The second dive we enlisted a team of divers to come along. Nate, Kelly, Ben C., Corie and I all tackled the long walk to Black Rock. We found more turtles and sharks with a few nudibranchs, lionfish, and an octopus to add to Corie's list of Hawaiian undersea critters. Now we will get to share this amazing tropical paradise with lots of people aboard the Safari Explorer.
Diving in Hawaii!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Africa: A Look Back in Pictures

Amazing Animal Encounters 

Incredible Lodges

Great Travel Companions


Interesting Cultural Experiences

Spectacular Scenery

 Amazing Adventures

...and a Very Successful Baseball Season with Baseball 4 Africa