Melon-Headed Whales in Hawai`i
Scientific Name: Peponocephala electra
Melon-headed whales, highly social, are found in large herds in Hawaiian waters, especially off the Waianae coast of Oahu, the north Kohala coast of Hawaii, and the leeward coast of Lanai.
They have been seen over a range of depths (255 – 4,407 m) off all the main Hawaiian Islands, though found more frequently in depths greater than 2,000 m.
They appear to be somewhat shy when first sighted (especially if previously frightened by fishing boats) and then curious, perhaps spy-hopping to look at boats and their passengers.
Social interactions may then include close side-by-side swimming or in-contact swimming by pairs of whales. Whales swimming close together often touch with their flippers, sometimes resting a flipper against another whale’s side or flipper. Pairs of whales also engage in gentle rubbing interactions, such slowly rubbing a head against various body parts of another whale.
How did the melon-headed whale get it’s name?
Aggressive interactions may also be seen such as rapid approaches to other whales, with attempts to elicit slight avoidance reactions.
Melon-headed whales are often seen with other species of cetaceans, including rough-toothed dolphins, and short-finned pilot whales. NOAA’s melon-headed whale info.
Navy sonar used during the 2004 Rim of the Pacific exercises likely caused 150 – 200 melon-headed whales to strand themselves in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, Hawaii over the Fourth of July weekend of 2004. (Read NOAA’s article on the stranding.)
On July 3, attendees of a canoe blessing observed the animals entering the Bay in a single wave. These deep-water, open ocean mammals appeared to be showing signs of stress by swimming in a tight circle in a shallow part of the bay.
A reverse variation of the native Hawaiian method of corralling fish, a long twisted strand of beach morning glory vines was made by the families of the Hanalei Canoe Club. In a brilliant, coordinated effort that involved paddlers, local companies, fishermen, State and Federal Agencies, and the general public, the whales were herded out to deep waters using the vines.
The only apparent casualty of the incident was a young whale found dead in Hanalei Bay. It is likely that maternal separation, poor nutritional condition, and dehydration contributed to the final demise of the animal.
Wild Side Melon-Headed Whale Picture Gallery
Our wildlife tours focus on education and conservation so that an interactive relationship can be maintained in the best interest of both humans and dolphins. We strive to foster admiration and deep respect for these wonder-ful marine mammals.