Category Archives: In The Water

Spinner dolphins

Spinner dolphins off Hawaii

I’ve seen spinner dolphins on several occasions lately, both from the shore and in the water. But each time I’ve seen them, they haven’t been hanging around, but heading from A to B with purpose. In such situations, I mostly hope some will pass by close enough for me to get a photo or two.

On this occasion, the top photo shows a group passing by on my seaward side. Then I turned and captured the bottom group zipping by between me and the shore. A week or so later, another pod passed by, but the water was murky and the views not great. But then a few stragglers passed quite close and the reason for their relative sloth became clear; there were a couple of baby dolphins not yet able to keep up with the speeding main pod.

However, I didn’t get photos of them because my camera wasn’t working. A short while later, it suddenly recovered, but the episode illustrated the increasingly erratic behavior of the camera. Finally, a few days ago, it got to the point where it seems to have irretrievably given up the ghost.

The next time I went for a swim, it seemed odd not to have a camera in my hand. I’ve already ordered a replacement, which I hope arrives speedily. In the meantime, I’m nervous about going snorkeling, afraid that I’m going to have one of those once-in-a-lifetime encounters with no photographic record!

Spinner dolphins off Hawaii

Another spotted eagle ray encounter

A spotted eagle ray swims in the waters off the Big Island, Hawaii
A spotted eagle ray swims in the waters off the Big Island, Hawaii

Last week, I posted about an encounter with three spotted eagle rays (here). A few days after that I ran into one of the small eagle rays a little farther up the coast. The visibility wasn’t good – those pink spots are small organisms floating in the water – but the ray came so close that I was able to get a few photos. I’m pretty sure this was the same one that was so curious on the first encounter. This time it didn’t hang around but drifted by, disappearing into the murky water.

A spotted eagle ray swims in the waters off the Big Island, Hawaii

Watching an octopus

A day octopus in the waters off Hawaii

The easiest way to spot an octopus is to see it swimming (top photo). They’re not large creatures but they’re quite distinctive when they swim.

If they’re not swimming, one thing to look for is certain fish, such as goatfishes and jacks, just hanging around in a spot for no apparent reason. When these fish are hunting alone, they tend to be more active in probing the rocks and trying to disturb prey. But when they’re hunting with an octopus, they seem more content to let the octopus do the work and snapping up whatever emerges. I’ve found that goatfishes are particularly helpful as an octopus indicator.

A while back, there were videos online of an octopus apparently punching a goatfish. I wasn’t surprised by this. The octopuses I’ve seen don’t seem best pleased by the presence of goatfishes. Part of this might be down to feeling that the goatfishes are not pulling their weight in the hunt. But another factor might be that if goatfishes give away their position, for the octopus that can be fatal.

Octopus is a popular food in Hawaii and has long been so. If I’ve learned to look for goatfish as an indicator of their presence, then no doubt spear fishermen have too. These days, if I see an octopus when anyone’s spear fishing nearby, I don’t do anything to draw attention to it.

A day octopus in the waters off Hawaii

A family outing?

Three spotted eagle rays in the waters off Hawaii

On a recent snorkeling outing, my wife and I hadn’t gone far when we saw these three spotted eagle rays cruising around. The one was bigger than the other two and I wondered if this was a family group.

The three went back and forth before disappearing in the direction we’d come from. Or rather two of them did. The third, the smallest of the three, looped around a few times and seemed keen to demonstrate just how quickly it could turn and swoop and soar. Eventually, it followed the others.

A spotted eagle ray in the waters off Hawaii

We swam a little farther, then turned and headed back. It wasn’t long before we ran into the two juvenile rays again. Both were zipping around, carving turns, dipping down and rocketing up. Again, the smallest one was the most demonstrative and I got the feeling it was just having a ripping good time, practicing its acrobatics.

But it was also clearly quite curious. A couple of times it came straight up to me and I could see it looking at me, probably wondering what this cumbersome creature was in the water. I like to think I helped confirm its own superior swimming skills as I splashed my way back to the shore.

Three spotted eagle rays in the waters off Hawaii

Fish for breakfast

A juvenile black-crowned night heron catches a fish

I was running early to work recently, so I decided to stop in Kawaihae, as I often do. With more time, I’d have gone for a walk along the coast, but I had only 15 minutes so I plumped for a visit to the south end of the harbor to see if there were any herons around.

I found two there, but one quickly disappeared. The other stood on a rock in shallow water, a popular fishing spot for them. I took a few photos and noticed the heron leaning forward. It had spotted something. An instant later, it plunged into the water and then emerged with a fish on its beak. It returned to the rock and paused. The fish appeared to be impaled on the heron’s beak, but extracting the beak risked losing the fish before it could be eaten.

A moment later, the heron hopped over to the small beach where I was. There, it popped the fish into the air and swallowed it in one slick movement. This whole sequence took less than three minutes. The heron stayed on the beach and I returned to my car and headed off to work, very glad that I’d stopped by.

Manta ray encounter

Acute halfbeaks pass in front of a manta ray off Hawaii

My most recent manta ray encounter was notable for the sheer exuberance of the ray. It swam up to my wife and me, then curved away, then came back again. At one point it moved farther off, into murkier, shallow water (which is why I didn’t get photos) and did several loop de loops for no apparent reason. It swam along with us for a while, closer to the shore, until we lost sight of it.

The top photo shows it approaching. I love it when they come straight towards me. They look so strange and yet so amazing, and there’s nothing to fear whatsoever since they’re plankton eaters and among the least dangerous creatures in the water. It wasn’t until I processed my photos that I noticed the acute halfbeaks passing between us. Ironically, this might be one of my better photos of them, captured unintentionally.

The bottom photo shows one of the ray’s curving passes with its mouth closed which, when I think about it, might be the first time I’ve seen that.

A manta ray swimming off Hawaii

Leatherbacks

Leatherbacks off the coast of Hawaii

Leatherbacks are members of the Jack family and are most often seen singly or in pairs. I see them quite often and always try to get a photo of them and almost always fail. That’s because they have a tendency to surge upwards to feed and then zip back down.

On this occasion, a group of a dozen or more leatherbacks went by in the company of several bluefin trevallies and other fish. As usual, they were traveling at speed, but the numbers meant I had a better opportunity to get this photo.