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Chapter 41

Moby Dick

I have been fascinated by whales ever since I read Melville's book, Moby Dick. My move to Maui was timed with the arrival of the humpback whales in the waters off Lahaina and I caught my first sight of these magnificent creatures a few days after I arrived. Several spots on the island are ideal for whale watching and offer wonderful views of the huge mammals as they breach and frolic in the channel. My first close encounter came a couple of months later.

I had helped a commercial hand line fisherman load his boat on the trailer. The wind and waves from off shore kept pushing the boat off the guide rails. I stepped down and helped steady the rig while the owner winched it up on the trailer. After he pulled out, he opened the fish box and offered me a couple of five pound o'pakapaka, (pink snapper) worth quite a bit of money in the local market. I thought this was bit much for the little work that I had done but he insisted. They were delicious by the way. I hinted that I would really like to go fishing someday and he invited me to come along when I had the time. A few days later, I was returning from the airport when I saw my new friend on the side of the road replacing a tire on his boat trailer. I was finished for the day with my work at the trailers and stopped to ask if he was going fishing and could I come along. He told me I was welcome, to pick up some lunch and soft drinks, no beer. He was a devout Christian and didn't allow any liquor on his boat. I rushed in to town, picked a couple of sandwiches and sodas and met him at the boat ramp in Ma'alaea.

We launched his 21 foot inboard and headed out in the direction of the target island, Kaho'olawe. Except for certain holidays, the US Navy declared the island off limits for fishing. Boats had to stay one mile from the high water mark at other times. As we neared the boundary line, he stopped the boat and picked up a piece of plywood with some strange markings on it. Using the board, he took several sightings and moved the boat until he was satisfied with the position. We dropped anchor and started hand lining. This translated in to work. We dropped a weighted line equipped with five hooks down 50 fathoms (300 feet). He told me not to pull it up until I felt five bumps on the line. No sense bringing up one fish. I counted five bumps and sure enough, I dumped five nice pink snappers in the bottom of the boat. Baited up and back in the water I was feeling pretty smug.

Humpback whale
Photo Credit: Suzanne Canja / Maui Visitors Bureau
I caught sight of a pod of whales, mothers and calves about two hundred yards away. They were doing their thing, rolling and once in a while one would fling itself out of the water to come down with a crash to remove barnacles. As I watched they seemed to be moving closer and I mentioned this to my friend. He told me not to worry, that if they got too close he would start the engine and they would leave. I think he did it on purpose but soon the whales looked as though the next time they sounded and came up for air they would be right under the boat! He started the engine, revved it a couple of times and sure enough, they whales moved away.

That was my first close encounter. I watched them from the beach and from the fishing boat I worked on and never tired of seeing a mammal that weighed 40 tons and measured some 50 feet in length leap out of the ocean. My next meeting could have been disastrous. A friend and I were trolling towards Kaho'olawe. I was sitting on the edge of the boat guiding with my foot and watching our set of four lines behind the boat. All of a sudden, the boat rolled to starboard and I almost fell inside. I heard this whooshing sound and felt the mist from the whale's blowhole. My friend made a dash to cut the engine while I tried to regain my footing. I looked to the front of the boat to see two whales, a mother and calf. Somehow, we had driven between the two and the mother lost sight of her calf. She pulled a modified Moby Dick to get our attention, which she did, and as soon as we stopped, she rejoined her calf. Whales have terrible breath and the odor stayed with me until I hopped overboard and washed it away.

I won't bother you with details about the size of whales or their habits. I will let Google perform that chore. Just dial up that search engine, type in Sperm or Humpback Whale and learn away. The attached photo is from the Maui Visitors Bureau web site. I was never able to get a decent photo of whales during the two years I spent on Maui!

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