The first humpback whale, like this one in an undated photo off Hawaii, was spotted off Kauai on Oct. 14.
First humpback is spotted off Kauai
The sighting of the first humpback whale "is one of the signs of the change of the seasons" in Hawaii, said David Mattila, science and rescue coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
Usually it is Maui or the Big Island that reports the first humpback in the fall.
This year, Kauai took the honor on Oct. 14, when people on two different boats saw a small humpback off the southern coast of Kauai, said Capt. Dave Kalthoff, of Blue Dolphin Charters.
"There's no doubt in my mind it was a humpback," said Kalthoff, who was on his way to pick up tourists for a ride on the 65-foot catamaran Blue Dolphin.
Kalthoff estimated the animal was 18 to 22 feet long, in about 200 feet of water about half a mile offshore. A crew member on a nearby Sea Sports vessel radioed that it had seen a whale just minutes before, he said.
The whale breached twice during the 15 minutes he watched, Kalthoff said. "It's the earliest I've seen a whale in the season," he said.
"Since then we have seriously been looking," he said.
"We're excited," Mattila said of whale researchers working with him on the third year of a three-year project to learn more about Hawaii's most recognizable winter visitor. "It's almost like the opening of a theatrical production. You're a little nervous but you want to get moving. You're excited to see them back and look for a good season."
According to the Pacific Whale Foundation, last year's first whale of the season in Hawaii was reported Oct. 23 off West Maui.
"In 2003 the first sighting was on Oct. 21; in 2002 it took place on Nov. 3, and in 2001 it occurred on Oct. 31," said Pacific Whale Foundation spokeswoman Anne Rillero.