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