Rare Look at Melon-Headed Whales off Maui

August 22, 2016, 4:57 PM HST · Updated August 23, 7:51 AM
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Photo credit: Kevin Roe. Pod of melon-headed whales spotted while on the Maui Diamond II Sunday morning.

Photo credit: Kevin Roe. Pod of melon-headed whales spotted while on the Maui Diamond II Sunday morning.

Charles Louis Millman of Maui Marine Photography captured this rare look of what he described as a pod of melon-headed whales off of Kīhei, Maui today.

According to NOAA, melon-headed whales are small members of the dolphin group and can reach a length of 9 feet, and weigh up to 460 pounds.  The agency reports that the whales often occur in groups of over 1,000 animals and are often found on the edge of, or behind, schools of Fraser’s dolphins.

NOAA reports that population estimates are around 2,950 in Hawaiʻi and that the species is primarily found in deep waters where they feed on squid, fish and crustaceans.

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An avid diver and photographer for the past 22 years, Millman strives to share the beauty of the underwater world with those who seek to experience its beauty and mysteries.  Living and working on Maui, along with his wife Colleen, Millman spends as much time below the surface as possible to capture new moments and give others glimpses of the oceans creatures great and small.

Millman said this was the second time he’s seen mellon-headed whales off Maui.  In the second half of the video, Millman also captures pygmy killer whales, which are a separate species that were apparently traveling with the pod, which he said is not uncommon.

NOAA reports that “mass stranding is fairly common in this species, especially in Hawaiʻi.”  According to NOAA, there was a stranding event in 2004, in which 150-200 melon-headed whales remained inside a bay on the island of Kauaʻi until herded out by volunteers.  The agency also noted that there was US Navy training involving the use of sonar nearby.

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The species is protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.  The public is reminded to take extra caution when whales or dolphins are near.  The Pacific Whale Foundation compiled a list of tips for vessel operators and ocean-goers alike, and are issued each year to remind the public of whale watching guidelines and best practices when in the presence of other marine life.

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