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Whale watching seasons kicks off

December 24, 2016 - 12:05am

KAWAIHAE — Shortly after 9 a.m. Friday morning, a humpback whale breached the waters off Kawaihae, prompting a round of cheers from spectators gathered at the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site visitor center who had come to see just that.

The sighting marked the beginning of the official whale watching season, when whales make their annual migration down from the cold waters of Alaska to breed and have calves.

“It’s good,” said Ian Adler, 6, who came to the park with his family for the kickoff event. “I’m learning a lot about the whales.”

Every Friday through April 2017, the park will host weekly whale watches, when park visitors can get a chance to see the whales.

Volunteers from the Hawaii National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will also be around to educate visitors.

“I love spending my Fridays like this,” said Amalia Mueller, a state director for the foundation and the Hawaii Island chairperson. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ you know? How much fun is this?”

Mueller, a retired educator, said she loves still having the opportunity to educate and share knowledge with guests.

“There’s always things to share,” she said.

The whale watches at the park, she said, have gone on for more than a decade.

The park falls along a portion of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which runs from near the Kona International Airport at Keahole to Hawi.

Mueller said the waters nearby are ideal for the whales because they’re fairly shallow and boat traffic is very light. That makes for a safe place for the whales’ calves.

“We have great waters here,” she said. “We really do.”

It’s also a pretty suitable place to watch the whales, she added. Puukohola translates to “hill of the whale.”

“Pretty spectacular to begin with,” Mueller said.

The foundation works closely with the National Park Service during the whale watches.

Ian Adler’s father, Larry Adler, said the family is on vacation to the islands from north of Chicago. They try to come out to all the National Parks they can when on vacation. The family had come out to Puukohola the day before and learned the kids could get another Junior Ranger badge by coming back out to the whale watch.

“It brought us out so it’s a good opportunity to learn some different things or unique things,” he said.

Ian said he’s learning a lot at the park. Though he hadn’t seen any whales breach yet, he said he was looking forward to seeing one. The most interesting thing he’d learned was that only the male whales “sing” their songs.

As for his dad, Larry Adler said he didn’t realize whales didn’t eat while in Hawaii’s waters.

Visitors to the park also received a special presentation — and cake — about the whales, where they migrate from and what exactly they’re doing when they breach the water.

Brian Toth of Fairbanks, Alaska, said he came to the event with some friends and family while on vacation, looking for something different to enjoy.

“We always like to hike, learn something new,” he said, “not just sit on the beach.”

The day’s event and presentation were a great opportunity for his family and others to learn about whales and the environment.

“The things we do as humans can definitely affect the environment,” he said.

His three kids all seemed to enjoy it.

“They love learning about nature,” he said. “They love animals … They love the beach but love to learn about things they care about.”

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