Valentine’s Day a whale of a day for students

KEALIA — Students’ eyes were glued to their binoculars Wednesday morning.

“This is exciting,” Jean Souza of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said. “I came a little earlier than the students and saw whales right away.”

Ten students from St. Catherine School capped their studies on marine mammals and conservation with an hour-long whale watch yesterday just below the Kealia Lookout.

“The lookout would’ve been better because the elevation is a little higher, but it was blocked off, so this is fine,” Souza said.

As a prelude to the whale watch, Souza said she visited the class and gave a PowerPoint presentation about the different whale behaviors the students would possibly see during the watch.

“Yasmine Ware saw a pec slap,” said fourth-grader Shawna Dinnan, whose eyes were glued to the spotting scope set up by Souza.

The students mimicked the behavior of the whale as it slapped a pectoral fin on the surface of the water.

“We also saw a whale tail slap, too,” another student said.

“Every student saw whales and that was the goal,” Souza said.

Instructor Holly Walker’s class conducted sightings from six different areas in a 30-minute span.

It’s not always that good.

Souza has worked with other schools on similar watches, but this one was special because of the number of sightings.

Each time a whale was spotted, squeals of excitement ran through the class.

“We’re looking for the big splash that happens close,” Walker said to her students, partly to keep them motivated and alert.

Once a student spotted a blow, or in yesterday’s case, several blows in succession, the rest of the group would hone in with their binoculars and a spotting telescope for closer looks.

Between sightings, Walker encouraged the students to be on the lookout for other marine life, such as turtles.

Souza said this type of activity ties in well with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ocean counts, held on the last Saturday in January, February and March.

Souza holds training classes for ocean count volunteers, many of whom travel from the Mainland each year just to participate.

Though ocean count volunteers have to pre-register and go through training, Souza said the public is welcome to stop by any of the 15 island-wide count sites and check it out.

At sites with heavy viewer traffic, an information officer is usually available to help spectators understand what’s going on.

Souza is also trying to arrange a whale watch for Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School students.

Sans candy and greeting card exchanges, it wasn’t a typical Valentine’s Day for the fourth-graders — or Souza.

As the students returned their binoculars and filed back onto the bus, Souza caught sight of a lady selling flowers from a roadside stand.

“Oh, it’s Valentine’s Day,” she said. “I forgot.”

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