More about whales

Interesting interview with a local naturalist about the humpbacks:

March/April 2016 Naupaka News
Consultant and Naturalist Claire Muchin Shares Insights

One of the best ways to learn more about and watch the whales more closely is through a whale watch cruise, offered at Waikoloa Beach Resort by Ocean Sports (, a company that has been working in Hawai`i since 1981. We asked Claire Muchin, a consultant and naturalist on the Ocean Sports boats, to share some insights on the humpbacks.
NAUPAKA NEWS: The whales are late arriving in Hawai`i this year … what would cause that?
MUCHIN: Researchers aren’t sure. Some posit that the water stayed warmer longer in the northern areas where the whales feed, so they stayed longer to take advantage of the available calories. Others theorize that the whales migrated on their “normal” schedule, but stayed further offshore when they got to the main Hawaiian Islands because the coastal waters were “uncomfortably warm.”
NN: Does that also mean they will be staying longer than usual?
MUCHIN:The whales migrate to Hawai`i just to mate, calve, and take care of calves. As soon as they’re able to accomplish the particular task they came here to do, they’ll most likely leave (to get back to the food). We’ll know more sometime in May!
NN: Describe the migration … where do the whales go, and when?
MUCHIN:The humpbacks that come to Hawai`i are part of the North Pacific population (there are 11 distinct populations who live in each of the world’s oceans). Of the approximately 20,000 – 22,000 North Pacific Humpbacks, about two-thirds come to Hawai`i. (The rest migrate to waters off of Baja California or the Southern Islands of Japan). For the most part, the humpbacks that come to Hawai`i migrate directly north and spend their summers off the coast of Alaska (from the Gulf of Alaska to the Aleutian Islands). Migration to Hawai`i from Alaska begins in autumn. Interestingly, individual humpbacks will not spend an entire winter here. They may spend as little as two weeks here before heading back … and if a female mates successfully on the way to Hawai`i, she may turn around and swim back to Alaska without even reaching the islands.
NN: We most often think of humpbacks as the primary species frequenting Hawaiian waters, but there are several other species also, correct?
MUCHIN:Humpbacks are the whales who migrate here, but as many as 18 different species of cetaceans live around the islands year-round. We encounter some of them frequently (like spinner dolphins), though most of the others live in deeper water (like sperm whales). But we do see some species like melon head whales, spotted dolphins, false killer whales, and pilot whales on occasion in the coastal waters.
NN: Climate change and warming seas are (pardon the pun) hot topics … how do these phenomena affect the humpbacks’ migration patterns?
MUCHIN:We’re not really sure. Climate change may have had something to do with the later arrival of the whales this year … but we did start seeing them frequently on our charters by December 15th. Up until about four years ago, we didn’t even begin operating whale watch charters until that date because the whales hadn’t arrived until then. So actually, the earlier arrival of the humpbacks the past couple of years may have been the aberration … and what we saw this year may have been the norm.
NN: How do those same conditions affect the health of the whales and their food sources generally?
MUCHIN: That’s a complex question with a complex answer. Many of the small prey fish (like herrings and anchovies) have been schooling nearer to shore in the past year, so that’s where the whales have been found. Everything in the ocean is interrelated.
NN: What are some of the other risks to the whale population these days? Navy sonar? Hunting? Ocean trash/plastics?
MUCHIN: All of the above. Also ship strikes, since the humpback population has increased, more whales are swimming in the shipping lanes. Big ships (like cargo ships) don’t often see the whales and have run into them.
NN: What are some of the main messages you try to get across to visitors on a whale watching cruise?
MUCHIN: We try to get our guests involved in the excitement of seeing the humpbacks and sharing the ocean with them. We’ve found that humpbacks themselves are the ones sharing the important messages.

Found this for a visiting friend

We don’t hike much – just walking the dogs and doing tours when we are traveling, but I have a visiting acquaintance who is an enthusiastic hiker. When she announced that she was coming for an extended stay on the Big Island, I started looking around for some information for her about hikes on the Big Island and came across this excellent article, by Marty Wenzel.  These are some of the really nice short hikes on the Big Island:


With its massive expanse and multiple ecosystems, Hawaii Island has trails for all types of hikers. Some routes wind through rainforests, others lead to waterfalls and still others meander through volcanic landscapes.

Even for clients with little time or energy, the destination offers satisfying options for short, scenic strolls. Here are five of our favorite easy trails on Hawaii Island.

Akaka Falls Loop (.4 mile)

Just north of Hilo on the island’s east side, this family-friendly paved footpath loops through a dense rainforest enlivened by groves of bamboo, orchids and ferns. The first highlight is a view of Kahuna Falls, a 100-foot-high beauty. Around another bend, clients get an eyeful of 442-foot Akaka Falls, a spectacular photo op. The region tends to be rainy, so visitors should bring jackets. 

Kalopa Nature Trail (.7 mile)

Another good walk for families, this trail is located near Honokaa town, 40 miles north of Hilo. The area’s wet climate results in prolific vegetation, some of which is endemic to the island. Old-growth ohia trees, smaller trees, shrubs and lacy ferns abound here, making it a magical walk in the woods. At 2,000-foot elevation, it’s cool enough to warrant an extra layer of clothing.  

Kilauea Iki Trail (4 miles)

On this popular trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, clients start with a stroll through a spellbinding rainforest. The descent into Kilauea Iki crater leads to a dramatic expanse of rocks and steaming vents. Young ohia trees poke up through lava from a 1959 eruption, creating a photo-worthy landscape. Since the park is located at 4,000 feet, clients should wear layers. 

Kipukapuaulu Loop Trail (1.2 miles)

Here’s another Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gem. This upland trail snakes through some of the area’s older forests, which are surrounded by lava flows from Mauna Loa volcano. Hikers can see rare plants and trees, easily identified thanks to a brochure keyed to numbered sites. Many varieties of birds serenade visitors, which explains the area’s nickname, Bird Park.

Pololu Valley Trail (1 mile roundtrip)

At the end of Hwy. 270 at the northern side of the island awaits this popular Hawaii Island hike. Near the trailhead, a lookout provides glorious views of cliffs that tumble to the sea. A short hike downhill leads to Pololu Valley, home of a black-sand beach. While not recommended for swimming due to strong currents, it’s a wild and wonderful spot to picnic while gazing at the waves.


By Marty Wenzel

My first ocean liner

I vividly remember when I was captured by the romance of the seas and the beauty of ships. I was nearly 4 years old and it was 1951.



My dad – in fact, most of my male relatives – worked at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock and at that time, all the workers and their families were invited when there were important christenings of ships that were built at the Yard. One of the most important, and the first ship christening ever to be televised, was on June 23, 1951, when Mrs. Tom Connally, wife of the Senator from Texas, christened the SS United States. I remember thinking it was the most beautiful ship I had ever seen.

As workers were allowed to bring home scrap materials, pretty much everyone in our neighborhood – where most of the dads worked at the Yard – had something in their homes that was also on the United States. In our house and also my aunt and uncle’s next door, it was the flooring – the same rubber tiles were in our kitchens that were in the galley of the United States. A beautiful architect’s drawing of the ship hung in our dining room throughout my childhood – I don’t know what happened to it, though – another treasure lost in the sands of time and moves between houses.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that my love of cruising started then and there, but it might well have done.  I wish I could say I had been among those privileged to sail on the Big U during her heyday, when she set the record – still unbroken – for the fastest Atlantic Crossing on her maiden voyage from New York to Le Havre and Southampton, but alas, I didn’t start cruising until long after the United States was retired.  I did take an interest, however, in the various efforts to save her from the ship breakers, purchased a couple of the calendars the SS United States Conservancy folks put out, watched the documentary SS United States, Lady in Waiting, joined the Conservancy and made some small donations  in memory of my dad, and hoped that the old girl would eventually get repurposed and I might get to visit her once again as a museum ship, as had been proposed.

But it seems like now, I may even get to sail on her, at long last.  Crystal Cruises just announced that they are in the process of buying the ship from the Conservancy and that they plan to rehabilitate her and put her back in service! This time, I’m planning to be a passenger.

Here’s an article from The Avid Cruiser by Aaron Saunders with all the details:

Crystal Cruises Signs Purchase Option For S.S. United States: Plans To Launch United States By Crystal Cruises
February 5, 2016 By Aaron Saunders 

After decades spent languishing at her berth in Philadelphia, the historic ocean liner S.S. United States has been given an unexpected reprieve by Crystal Cruises. The luxury line, which has recently embarked on an aggressive expansion of its all-inclusive cruise brand that includes new cruise ships, expedition vessels, river cruise ships and a small fleet of Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft, has announced will save the S.S. United States from the breakers, signing a purchase option agreement and undertaking a feasibility study to restore the iconic ship to service.

The S.S. United States is closer than ever to returning to service, thanks to Crystal Cruises. Illustration courtesy of Crystal Cruises

In order to meet modern demands and be in full regulatory compliance, the SS United States will have to be extensively rebuilt to meet more than 60 years of new maritime rules and shipbuilding practices. The modern United States by Crystal Cruises will be transformed into an 800-guest-capacity vessel, featuring 400 luxurious suites measuring about 350 square feet with dining, entertainment, spa and other luxury guest amenities that are true to the ship’s storied history.

Features of the original SS United States such as the Promenade and Navajo Lounge will be retained, while new engines and sophisticated marine technology will be installed to maintain her title as the fastest cruise vessel in the world.

Crystal’s ambitions for the ship are helped in part by the fact that the historic ocean liner had been stripped of her original fittings, interiors, and toxic asbestos insulation between 1985 and 1994. She has been moored in Philadelphia since 1996, and has managed to avoid being sent to maritime scrapyards like those in Alang, India, ever since.

Norwegian Cruise Line, which had expressed an interest in the United States as far back as 1979, purchased the vessel in 2003, spending five years completing feasibility studies that concluded the ship could be put back into active service. Her birthplace in the United States also gives her the right to be flagged in the U.S.; something most modern cruise ships cannot claim. It’s a desirable designation for cruise lines. Those that lack it are forced to call on “distant foreign ports of call” when departing from U.S. ports in order to meet cabotage requirements set out in the 1800’s. Norwegian Cruise Line decided not to proceed with its plans, and the ship was sold to the SS United States Conservancy in 2010.

The S.S. United States was launched in 1952, and set the transatlantic speed record for fastest crossing on her maiden voyage. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia / Creative Commons

Now, Crystal cruises wants to bring the 1952-built ship – which still holds the record for fastest transatlantic crossing, garnered during her maiden voyage – back to life. The luxury line will be examining exciting new itineraries for the 60,000-gross-ton United States by Crystal Cruises including not only the resumption of her traditional transatlantic voyages from New York City, but cruises from key U.S. ports as well as international voyages around the globe, which are a signature offering of Crystal and part of the line’s “World Cruise.”

“The prospect of revitalizing the SS United States and re-establishing her as ‘America’s Flagship’ once again is a thrilling one. It will be a very challenging undertaking, but we are determined to apply the dedication and innovation that has always been the ship’s hallmark,” said Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez. “We are honored to work with the SS United States Conservancy and government agencies in exploring the technical feasibility study so we can ultimately embark on the journey of transforming her into a sophisticated luxury cruise liner for the modern era.”

“Crystal’s ambitious vision for the SS United States will ensure our nation’s flagship is once again a global ambassador for the highest standards of American innovation, quality and design,” said Susan Gibbs, executive director of the SS United States Conservancy and granddaughter of the ship’s designer, William Francis Gibbs. “We are thrilled that the SS United States is now poised to make a triumphant return to sea and that the ship’s historical legacy will continue to intrigue and inspire a new generation.”

Crystal Serenity is the newest member of the Crystal Cruises fleet. Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises

No stranger to the luxury market, Crystal Cruises has embarked on a number of exciting and varied ventures over the past year, including new ships, the line’s first entry into river cruising, and a fleet of luxury Boeing widebody aircraft. Photo courtesy of Crystal Cruises
Crystal’s announcement is a huge deal: The SS United States is the largest passenger ship ever designed and built in America. Before her retirement in 1969, the SS United States was one of the most glamorous and elegant ships in the world, designed to go head-to-head with Cunard Line’s famous Queens, like Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. She was designed as part of a top-secret Pentagon program during the Cold War, which stipulated it could be quickly converted from a luxury liner into a naval troopship in the event of a war, carrying 15,000 troops with a 240,000 shaft horsepower propulsion plant capable of traveling 10,000 nautical miles – almost half way around the globe – without refueling. Her exact top speed remains shrouded in mystery to this day, with a number of varying figures that range from 35 to 43 knots. The average modern-day cruise ship does between 18 knots and 22 knots flat-out.

Whether Crystal’s plans come to fruition remain to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the future of the SS United States has never looked so bright.