LIHUE — Standup paddler Brian Duncan thought he had a surfer in his sights when he was fiddling with the focus on his new camera at Hanalei Bay.
But when he snapped the photo Wednesday afternoon and looked at it, what he saw completely blew him away. It was not a man he had captured in the image.
“Holy S—-!” he said he couldn’t help but exclaim.
Duncan had managed to take a single photo of what he thought was an orca killer whale jumping out of the water just a mile offshore, and by the looks of it, nobody else had seen it.
“It was right amongst everyone,” Duncan said of the marine life that was jumping in the same wave break surfers were riding, although no other people are in the picture frame. “It was mind boggling. It was inside of the people. It was trippy how close it was to everyone.”
Had he not had the physical proof, Duncan said, no one would believe he had seen the whale in the first place.
Even he hadn’t believed he had seen a whale.
“My first thought was that it was a bull shark,” he said. “But then I thought, it’s too big for that. Nope it has to be a killer whale.”
Duncan, who had just finished up his day near Pine Trees around 3 p.m., said he talked to the lifeguard and further analyzed the image.
“(The lifeguard) said, ‘People do see a lot of things around here,’” he said.
But whale experts aren’t calling it a whale yet. The grainy image shows something that appears to be jumping, but it’s not quite clear enough to allow them to mark it down as an orca.
“I think it’s impossible to say what it is from that photo,” said Robin Baird, a research biologist for the Olympia, Washington-based Cascadia Research Collective, after reviewing the image. “I can see why someone would say it’s a killer whale.”
Baird said that killer whales, which have been recorded to grow as big as 18 feet in Hawaii, don’t typically swim that close to shore, unless they were about to die.
“Unless it would be on its way to strand, it would be unlikely that it would be in such shallow waters,” he said.
Jean Souza, Kauai sanctuary volunteer coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, agreed.
“Based on the markings and the physical shape, chances are it’s not (an orca),” she said. “It wouldn’t be so close to shore.”
Most likely Duncan saw a large bottlenosed dolphin, which can can grow up to about 10 feet or more, Baird said, and not an orca killer whale.
But even then, Baird wasn’t able to identify the species from the photo.
But while orcas aren’t native to Kauai waters, four of them were spotted and photographed outside of Port Allen Oct. 4.
“It’s a debatable thing,” Duncan said of what’s pictured.