A whale of a show in Honolulu harbor

Luann Bento
Luann Bento

By Teri Okita – bio | email

HONOLULU HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - Locals and visitors were treated to the rare sighting of whales in Honolulu harbor Thursday, and whale experts got a quick study of the mammals' behavior.

It didn't take long for word to spread that humpback whales had journeyed into the harbor. Looky-loos turned out in droves.

"It's truly amazing!" says Luann Bento. "I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen this. Look, they're right there!"

Lucky locals were surprised when they arrived at their Sand Island hang-out. Whale watcher Danny Tanaka says, "I saw the tug taking the boat out there. Then, I noticed whales in front, and I go, 'Wow! I've never seen that!'"

"It looked like the big ship over there almost got them out of here, and they just turned back," explains a whale watcher named Byron. "Guess they like Honolulu harbor or something."

The pair's curious behavior had whale experts interested in their every move. They rubbed against boats, big and small. They swam along piers.

"Who knows why? We've had it happen," says NOAA's Marine Mammal response manager for humpback whales in the Hawaiian Islands, Ed Lyman. "You know, in the past, there's been reports of them coming into Honolulu harbor. We've had them going into Nawiliwili harbor, Hilo harbor, Kahului harbor. They do it all the time, and with the increase in numbers, I think we could see this more often."

Lyman says the whales appeared to be in good health, and there could be several scenarios for this "out of habitat" event - perhaps two juveniles on a play date or a yearling traveling with its mother during mating season.

"We have had cases, and again, this is just speculation, where a female has taken whales that are after her, chasing after her, for the right to breed with her, through mooring fields, near boats, almost as if, 'Hey, I'm not … this is not the right timing. Stop chasing me', and used other boats or moorings as a way to get them away from her," explains Lyman.

Ahhh, so that behavior goes across the species! Got it! Whatever the reason, marine experts took the visit very seriously - making sure mariners and spectators kept their distance until the pair swam safely away to another adventure.

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, relies on the public to help it spot any unusual events like this. If you do notice one, call its hotline: 888-256-9840 or you can find more information on NOAA's website.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.