Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Spinning Dolphins?

Last April we witnessed an astounding sight, at least for us.  Off of our lanai, too far out to be seen clearly, were what appeared to be about seven huge fish seemingly walking on their tails.  It turned out that they weren’t fish, nor were they walking on their tails – they were actually dolphins that were spinning while virtually totally out of the water.

And they are known as Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins (Nai’a).  They can leap into the air and make as many as seven complete spins rotating around their longitudinal axis before diving back into the ocean.  And, no one seems to know why they spin.

Around Hawaii, spinner dolphins congregate at night in large herds in the deep channels between the islands to feed. During the day, they break up into smaller groups and come near shore to rest and play. One of the places where they can commonly be seen is in Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii.

Kealakekua Bay is twelve miles south of Kailua-Kona on the west side of the Big Island.  The bay is historic because it marks the site where Captain James Cook landed on the island. Cook was the first British explorer to establish contact with Hawaii in 1778 (on Kauai). Only a year later, he was killed in a skirmish with native Hawaiians in Kealakekua Bay.

A white obelisk on the shore of the bay memorializes his death. On the east side of the bay there is also the Hikiau Heiau (sacred temple) dedicated to the Hawaiian god, Lono.

Spinner dolphins are the smallest of Hawaii’s dolphins.  They are generally between five and six feet in length and weigh 130 to 200 pounds.  As mammals, dolphins bear live young and the mothers nurse them on milk and provide care.

Dolphins are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.  It is against the law to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture or kill a dolphin. NOAA.  For the dolphins' sake, and for your safety, visitors and residents are asked to please not feed, swim with, or harass wild dolphins. People are encouraged to observe them from a distance of at least 50 yards.

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