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First humpback whale of the season arrives three months early

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 10:57 a.m. HST, Aug 31, 2012

The first of 10,000 humpback whales arrived in Hawaiian waters more than three months early and was spotted Thursday morning in 100 feet of water north off of Kailua-Kona.

Thursday's sighting could be "the earliest humpback sighting to be documented in recent history," according to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Humpbacks swim a route that takes them back and forth from Alaska, California and Hawaii and typically stay in Hawaiian waters from November through May to mate and give birth, said Justin Viezbicke, Hawaii island programs coordinator for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

In the eight years that Viezbicke has been in Kailua-Kona, "it's definitely the earliest that I've seen one," he said.

Atlantis Submarines, Captain Zodiac, Kona Diving Company and Wild Hawai'i Ocean Adventures spotted the humpback whale surfacing off Honokohau Harbor Thursday morning.

Deron Verbeck, captain and co-owner of the 36-foot Ocean Warrior from Wild Hawai'i Ocean Adventures, had six tourists out on a snorkel trip to see dolphins and pilot whales when they spotted the whale about one mile north of Kailua-Kona at Kaiwi Point.

"I'm guessing it was 40 to 45 feet long," Verbeck said. "The whale swam underneath our boat."

The tourists, Verbeck said, "were super excited."

Viezbicke said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have no theories why the whale showed up so early.

It appeared to be a healthy juvenile, showing no signs of distress, Verbeck said.

"It's really difficult to say," Verbeck said. "I don't think he's lost. He's just here a little early."

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary reminded whale watchers today that endangered humpbacks are federally protected. 

Humans, while on the water, are required to stay 100 yards from whales and 1,000 feet when operating an aircraft. 

"It's important for everyone to be extra vigilant during whale season, for their own safety and the protection of the animals, and this year whale season seems to be starting early," Viezbicke said.

More than 10,000 humpback whales winter in Hawaiian waters each year.

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