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Melon-headed Whales of Sasanhaya Bay

It was a sunny July 4, 2004; we had just finished a dive with some customers and were headed back to the East Harbor when a call came over the VHF radio. "There's a lot of dolphins. You guys need to come over and see." We radioed back and found out that the reported dolphins were on the west side of Sasanhaya Bay and the direction in which we were headed.

When we arrived at the location it was better than promised with literally hundreds of dolphins everywhere. My wife Lynne, who was the boat operator that day, was slowing down and then shut off the engines as I was grabbing my mask, fins and snorkel and jumping out of the boat. On the way over the side I could hear Lynne yelling "What are you doing?" I realized instantly that I had left all of the customers on board. Thinking quickly I responded "I am checking it out to be sure that it is safe." Yeah, right. I just wanted to be the first one in the water for a change and see all the good stuff. It was probably good that I did check it out first as there were mothers with their young and a couple of males in a state of arousal.

After snorkeling around for a bit and seeing that the funny looking dolphins didn't seem to be bothered by my presence and didn't attack me I announced to the eager divers on board that it appeared to be okay, but be careful and remember these guys are big and wild animals. Nobody even hesitated. The group got in the water and started snorkeling among the dolphins. Luckily two of the snorkelers had digital cameras with video capability.

There were dolphins all around us, many in small groups (pods) of up to 20 dolphins. Then there were young dolphins coming in at us to check us out only to be cut off by what I assumed were their mothers. You could approach very closely and even free dive down to them. One snorkeler being very still and keeping his hands and arms at his side had a large dolphin pass 3 feet in front of him!

This was an awesome moment and one I knew would probably be one of those once in a lifetime things. We stayed with the dolphins for approximately 30 minutes as I had another dive trip scheduled, but we came back again after that dive and stayed another 30 minutes or more. The snorkelers took so many photos that they started editing in the water to get rid of anything they thought was a bad shot in order for them to have extra space to take more shots. The dolphins seemed more relaxed during our second encounter. Unfortunately our time went by very quickly and we had to head back to the dive shop after a long day diving and snorkeling with a great tale to tell about our dolphin meeting.

That night Monty Keel, one of the divers who took photos sent them to a friend who informed Monty that the funny looking dolphins were not dolphins at all, but were melon-headed whales. His friend also said that this was a very special treat for us as these creatures usually stay 20 miles or more offshore. This was very exciting information.

The next morning we went out to join our new ocean friends again, but they were no longer around. They disappeared just as quickly as they had appeared and to where we have no idea.

End of story...Not hardly.

Seeing as how I thought this was a high point in my diving career I posted photos of the melon-headed whales sighting on the Dive Rota web site and one day I received an e-mail from a person who asked me about that particular day and about any other documentation (photos and videos) I might have. It seems there is not much known about melon-headed whales. Unbeknownst to me there was another melon-headed whale sighting/incident on the same day at approximately the same time in Hawaii thousands of miles across the ocean. There was speculation as to whether these sightings were in any way related to some new sonar that was being tested in the same areas at the same time. The U.S. Navy denies it and of course could not comment on it - National Security you know.

I have included links to some articles and other related items. This issue sure stirred up things for a while and to this date I still see or receive information concerning it.

You can get the publication (in pdf form) concerning the Rota melon-headed whale encounter at any one of these links:

Purple Button Tom Jefferson's melon-headed whale pdf report
Purple Button Tom Jefferson's publication page at NOAA Fisheries Service
Purple Button University of Guam
Purple Button Ziphius EcoServices - Dagmar Fertl's melon-headed whale pdf report

Melon-headed whales on the surface Melon-headed whales looking at snorkelers Melon-headed whales up close Lone Melon-headed whale on the surface Melon-headed whales swimming in front of the boat Melon-headed whales just having fun
Melon-headed whales around the stopped boat Hanging out below the boat Pair of Melon-headed whales Snorkelers and Melon-headed whales Melon-headed whales watching us Melon-headed whale swim challenge

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E-mail: mark@diverota.com

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