Humpback whales spotted in Honolulu Harbor

Published: Jan. 5, 2012 at 3:04 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 6, 2012 at 1:30 AM HST
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Courtesy: Christopher Kojima
Courtesy: Christopher Kojima

By Jim Mendoza

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Chris Kojima was working at Pier 30 Thursday morning.  He was aboard the Young Brothers tug Manuokekai when two humpback whales suddenly surfaced right alongside his tug boat.

"I got blasted a couple times by the spray coming of their nostrils," he said.

Kojima snapped dozens of photographs and shot video of the pair.  An adult or older yearling about forty feet long, and a smaller juvenile humpback were side by side.

"Seems like they were pretty much lost," Kojima said. "They were just doing circles, going up and down for air right in front of our boat all morning."

Atlantis Submarines alerted the U.S. Coast Guard of the whales presence around 7:30 a.m.  Humpbacks are federally protected under the endangered species act, so vessels must stay at least 100 yards away.

"In some places in this harbor that might be very difficult.  This harbor is not very wide. So vessels just have to use extreme caution when they're coming in," said Eric Roberts, who is the Coast Guard Hawaii's marine mammal response coordinator.

"It's not a good spot for whales," Kojima said.  "We actually had a lot of traffic this morning.  Boats went around them."

The harbor is 30-feet deep in the shallows and 60-feet deep in the center.

Kojima said from his perch atop the tug, he could see one of the animals had markings.

"The larger one had this pretty big gash on its back," he said. "You could see some propeller marks."

"I've also heard that they do have maybe some chafing marks along their sides," Roberts said.  "There have been reports that they've been rubbing up against the vessels here that are along the pier."

This is high season for humpbacks in Hawaii that migrate from Alaska between September and May.  The last time humpbacks swam deep into Honolulu Harbor was in the mid 1990s.

"They may be in here just for shelter, for resting.  But it's really hard for us to determine that," Roberts said.

There were unconfirmed reports that four other humpbacks were sighted in another area of the harbor.  The Coast Guard and Kojima only spotted the pair. It was quite a sight.
"Unreal experience. Special," Kojima said.

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