Several Hawaii Island photographers got a rare treat on New Year’s Day when they got up-close to a pod of false killer whales.
The magical moment happened just after 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, the first day of 2015. A group of photographers was about two miles off Keahole Point, when a pod of false killer whales suddenly appeared.
Julie Steelman and her colleagues knew it was a rare moment that wouldn’t last long. “This is a population that likes to circumnavigate all the islands, so when we saw them, we got really excited. They swim very, very fast,” she said. “They swim over to you once, and then they’ll swim away, and they echo location, so you can hear them whistling and clicking.”
Steelman estimates there were about 25-30 whales in the pod that would briefly split apart and move in groups of four to seven before coming back together.
“We try to stay out of their way, and not change their behavior or harass them, and these guys are so quick… moving through the water about nine kilometers an hour, and they’re hunting,” she said.
Hawaiian false killer whales are a protected endangered species with less than 200 left in Hawaiian waters.
“Your adrenaline is at an all-time high,” Steelman said. “It’s exhilarating and you can barely breathe, and you’re just thinking to yourself, this is a rare animal and I’m in their habitat and this is a pretty cool moment.”