Na Pali Riders - Raft Tour

Contemplations from the Captain

By Chris Turner Na Pali Riders Raft Tours Kauai, Hawaii

As I gaze out to the ocean, I often think about the excitement generated when people witness the very large (~50-ft) Humpback whales breaching out of the water.

I believe this exuberance is universal. I feel that they appear like rockets launching into outer space, as they are precise and incredibly powerful. When their massive bodies hit the water, their splash seems intense enough to generate a tidal wave across the entire ocean! Whenever I see a series of blowholes spraying water mist into the air, it always brings peace to my soul.

There is always a great anticipation I get each year for the upcoming whale season in Kauai. Weeks before they are due to arrive, I find myself sometimes searching in vain for any sign that these creatures have returned to the Islands. I easily recall the excitement we felt last season when Hawaii's first spotted Humpback Whale was seen.

As you may gather, I have a true love for the Humpback Whale. Their acrobatic skills are show stoppers. Their intelligence amazes me. They make beautiful music, composing their whale songs under the deep blue sea. When Chris Morakis, Publisher of Aloha - Kauai Visitor Guide, contacted me recently, I asked him if I could compose a short whale story for the upcoming issue.

This is not about your basic whale breaching encounter, but a from-the-heart experience I had last season. I've always believed that whales exhibit many human-like characteristics and what I witnessed makes me feel this even more. Well, Chris accepted the idea, so here it goes….

When I was a naive fifteen year old, I went to my first funeral. The funeral was for a surf judge's girlfriend, who had just passed away after experiencing a fatal epileptic seizure. Out of respect, we attended the funeral, not really knowing what to expect.

Of course, there was the formal, black attire and the muffled sounds of sobbing heard from the crowd. And then the priest recited the comforting words of the scriptures and explained that there is life after death for this young woman. The casket was closed, so we did not experience the viewing of her lifeless body, and also did not really feel any emotion or loss since we had personally not had a relationship with the deceased.

Fast-forward some 33 years later. It's now January 31, 2010, at 7:30 in the morning. Here we are, captain, crew and passengers on a whale-watching adventure to the Na Pali Coast of Kauai. The ocean conditions were magical on this day, the surface of the water could best be described as the appearance of an oil slick (minus the oil!) - incredibly smooth ("glassy") and dark in color. Looking out at the horizon, I spotted approximately seven Humpback whales huddled together. This struck me as a rather odd display




There was not the usual scene of a female slapping her pectoral fin to signal that she was ready to mate, and there was no tail slapping from any of the other whales. I cut the engines on the raft. All on the raft sat in deafening silence, staring in unison at the mass of whales, and trying to figure out what was happening before us. Were they sleeping or logging (possible resting state where whales lie horizontally at the surface without swimming)? And why were they huddled in such tight formation?

Suddenly, some haunting sounds vibrated off the hull of the raft, sounding like a cross between Scottish Bag Pipes and the cries of a newborn baby. The deep sounds seemed to stem from within their souls, like the release of painful emotion. I have never in my many years of whale-watching felt such intense sorrowful sensation.

Then came the next shock. I witnessed the sight of a lifeless baby whale, draped over the hump of the mother whale. The body was indeed that of a stillborn baby whale, rubberized, gray, and lifeless. In vain, the mother Humpback whale was persistently pushing the body of her dead baby to the surface as if for it to have any chance to breathe. The rest of the whales surrounding her seemed to understand her agony, and were there to protect and comfort her. This appeared as if it was their funeral for the stillborn.

This day will remain forever in my memory. All of us on the raft were so quiet and still. We were so moved by the scene of emotion that these intelligent creatures displayed. The pod's sensitivity to the mourning mother and baby seemed the same that we, as humans, would express for our loved ones.

My sister once revealed to me that my mother had a stillborn child before I was born. My mother never told me this, but I can understand why. The pain that she felt would be no different than the pain felt by the Humpback Whale Mother I saw that day. Their ability to feel and express emotion and pain appears no different from that of humans.

I urge everyone who comes to Kauai to go on a whalewatching tour, or simply choose to watch these creatures from the shore. They are truly magnificent animals in all aspects of size, intelligence and acrobatic skill. My hope is that visitors interacting with Humpback whales will encourage people to want to protect them, by supporting the ban on hunting whales and mindless slaughter of these rare and beautiful creatures.

Photos courtesy of Bill Crane, Napalie Riders