Photographers Deron Verbeck and Julie Steelman are calling it the pinnacle of their professional career.
"To watch this animal just on a leisurely pace swim in front of me, it was incredible," Verbeck said.
"I think the highlight -- hard to say. Now, it's like okay, everything else sort of pales in comparison to that," Steelman said.
Both photographers captured the rare moments more than a mile off Kona. It's the first time ever killer whales have been photographed and videotaped under water.
"I felt like I knew that this was a privilege," Steelman said.
Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Group encountered the same pod the day before off Kona. His crew's encounter was also a significant one.
"We were able to get good photographs of four individuals and we satellite tagged three of them," Baird said.
A map shows the movements of two of the tagged individuals through Monday.
"Those are actually the first satellite tags that have ever been deployed on killer whales in the tropics anywhere," Baird said.
Verbeck got lucky again a day later when he photographed more killer whales including one feeding on a 15-foot thresher shark.
"When I hit the water, I saw the male with a shark in its mouth just rag dolling it," Verbeck said.
This isn't the first time killer whales have been spotted in Hawaiian waters. Fishermen have been seeing them for years.
In July of 2011, a pod was spotted moving off Kauai and Niihau at a high speed.
In 2008, a sick female killer whale, estimated at 18-feet, fought its way through the surf at Brennecke's Beach near Poipu. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials kept it comfortable until it was euthanized.
And in April of 2004, a 19-foot killer whale beached itself on Lanai.
Baird says there's no evidence of a resident population in Hawaii. He believes these are part of an off-shore, open-ocean population moving through.
The new images and the satellite tags will help provide answers to many questions.
"Certainly, the best documented group of killer whales in Hawaii waters ever," Baird said.
And life-long memories for two local photographers.
"I'm still really moved at how beautiful an animal they are -- they're just spectacular," Steelman said.
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