Kona-Many Happy Returns!
I’ve since been back to Kona many times, but only twice specifically for hammerheads, both following reports of large schools of sharks gathering offshore. Boaters often run into these gatherings off Kona in the winter and springtime where the school will hang around for a week or so before dispersing or moving on. My good friends at Kona Diving Company usually give me a ring when the hammerheads are schooling. It doesn’t take a lot of convincing to get me on a plane with scuba gear headed to KOA. They never promise me hammerheads, only make sure I never left the Big Island disappointed.
The first time out with KDC, I signed up for one of their long-range charters headed south. I talked up south Kona so much that when my good friend Jim was leaving the islands for good, that’s where he wanted to dive. En route to Ule Pinnacle, the captain noticed a large fin in blue water a few miles outside of Ho’Okena. We all got really excited as the creature approached. My first whale shark was about 30 feet long. It was so friendly I had to swim away from it to get the whole thing in a picture. In fact, after 45 minutes we snorkelers were starting to get chilly and leave the water, but the shark kept swimming up to the boat looking lonely! I felt bad leaving my new, overgrown friend behind. I never did see a hammerhead, but the consolation prize was well worth it.
Disclaimer: swimming hard after big fish, swimming hard at depth, and holding your breath are all diving practices that are strictly frowned upon by anybody who knows anything about diving. I knew the risks of what I was doing at the time, and do not encourage similar behaviors in others. Do as I say in the disclaimer, not as I do in the following paragraphs and always dive within the guidelines of your training.
Two years later, my good friends and I found ourselves offshore from Kona once more. We left our girlfriends behind on Oahu to take a diving mancation stretching over four days of hard time underwater. Our limited time meant we had to make the most of it, so over four days we had run ins with mantas, oceanic whitetips, dolphins and climbed Mauna Kea in wet swimsuits and a rental car. Yet overshadowing the already awesome trip was another longe-range.
Once more we headed south. Dive #2 was at a spot outside of Honaunau ominously called “The Matterhorn.” We anchored between two pinnacles and descended. The site was packed with all sorts of rare Hawaiian endemics such as reticulated butterflyfish and viper morays. I was photographing a bandit angelfish at 130’ when I heard somebody banging on his scuba tank. I looked up to see my buddy Gavin motioning wildly about a hammerhead. I looked and squinted and stared where he was pointing and saw nothing but clear blue water stretching for more than a hundred feet. Gavin blew through half of his air while audibly laughing at me through his regulator as I dropped my camera and hung suspended in the water column, once more seemingly dejected by the hammerheads in Kona. My luck with these sharks was beyond bad.
Not ready to give up quite yet, I realized the shark was still in the area and, being in its daytime trance, probably not swimming terribly fast. I picked up my camera and bolted after it. Just as I got to the edge of the group, I looked again into the distance and caught a glimpse of it. I held my breath to keep the exhaust bubbles from scaring it away. My head was pounding from the carbon dioxide buildup after a long, hard swim, but I could see the shark turning at me out of curiosity. My lungs started screaming at me just as it got fairly close, so I exhaled. The shark reacted immediately to the bubbles and turned to leave. I quickly caught my breath, held it, and watched the shark turn at me once more. It was maybe twenty feet away when my buddy caught up, exhaling like crazy from his own swim, which caused the shark to turn and lumber off slowly.
Everybody on board the boat was excited with their shark encounter, but probably nobody was as ecstatic as me. We pulled anchor and started on our way back north. Some days nature just delivers the goods, a point driven home when we came across another fin cutting through the water. We all hurriedly grabbed our snorkel gear knowing what was coming. It was another whale shark. We jumped in and spent the next 45 minutes with the gentle giant. For whatever reason, whale sharks off Kona tend to be extremely curious of boats and swimmers. Like the last one, this shark kept making pass after pass through our group until, once more, we had to leave it.
Our epic day south wasn’t over yet. While the rest of us were swimming, a call came over the radio about a large school of hammerheads basking on the surface two miles offshore from Red Hill. Kerry of KDC knew how much this meant to me, so we spent the next hour running a grid pattern scanning the surface for a school of sharks. Just as the rest of the customers had retired to the snack tray and we were about to turn back to the harbor, the captain spotted them. Six gray hammer-headed shapes between 6 and 10 feet long swam gently under the surface, but before we could get our snorkel gear on, they were gone. I found what I came to see. With a few victories now under my belt, I continue to look for more, partly to learn about hammerheads and partly for the mystery of what else I might find. If you have any info on new sites, please contact me.
The hammerhead at the Matterhorn.
Viper moray (Enchelynassa canina)
Juvenile bandit angelfish (Apolemichthys arctuatus)
As many snorkelers as there are in the water, the shark wasn't the least bit bothered by us as evidenced by its obvious curiosity. Thanks for reading.