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Column - Compelling call of the whales

On my trip to Hawaii in January, I fell in love. Yep, head over heels, crazy and star-struck. My newly found sweetie loves the water, especially the Pacific blue of the Hawaiian islands, and spends his entire winter there. I spent hours watching ...

On my trip to Hawaii in January, I fell in love. Yep, head over heels, crazy and star-struck.

My newly found sweetie loves the water, especially the Pacific blue of the Hawaiian islands, and spends his entire winter there. I spent hours watching him frolic in the waves, splashing and playing.

He's an unusual sort, though. A little larger than your average choice and a big brute to be sure, but gentle for his size - all 45 tons of him.

Yes, 45 tons. Not too big, not too small for a Kohola - a Hawaiian humpback whale.

Those 50-foot long leviathans of the deep were there en masse during our time in Hawaii - January is right in the middle of the busiest whale season - and my family and I spent countless hours watching them from shore.

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We even took two whale-spotting excursions, and believe me, if I could have found a few extra hours (and several more dollars), I would have gone again.

From the first morning there, when we spotted them as we were eating breakfast, I was hooked - watching for a blow or a breach in the distance. Then out would come the camera. I took more than 900 photos of whales when I was there, and still couldn't get enough.

When you visit Hawaii during the peak whale season, there is never a shortage of sightings. Humpback whales use the islands as a safe place to mate, calve and nurse their babies until they are large enough to travel back to the waters around Alaska.

Humpbacks were nearly hunted to extinction, but have made a comeback and as many as 10,000 whales visit Hawaii each year. That's a lot of whales to watch!

We learned so much about these mammals on our excursions and, I'm telling you, when a humpback whale the size of a school bus leaps out of the ocean near your boat and splashes back into the water, your heart jumps right into your throat.

Many times I just stood there, camera in hand and mouth hanging open, watching in amazement. It's a wonder I was able to take any photos at all.

The waters around the island of Maui were established as a marine sanctuary by Congress in 1992, so sightseers are required to stay a minimum of 100 yards away from the whales.

But that's not to say the whales might not approach you, and when they do, many times it's from underwater. If a whale surfaces within that 100-yard radius, it's called a "mugging" and the boat is not allowed to move until the whale begins to move away.

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We were mugged once on our trip and seeing that colossal animal surface next to the boat was a breathtaking experience. You cannot realize how large whales are until they dwarf your vessel!

The only thing that could top being mugged was listening to the whales singing beneath the waves. Both boats we traveled on had hydrophones that they lowered into the water, and, even though there wasn't a whale in sight, you realized by the constant melodies you heard that they were right below us.

Watching the whales with their babies was fascinating as well as they slowly cruised through the water with the little ones by their sides - so gentle and calm.

I can't put my finger on what makes whales so compelling, but whatever it is, the next time I'm back in Hawaii, you'll find me on a boat, camera in hand, waiting to be mugged again.

Opinion by Lori Mork
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The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
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