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A Rare Sighting in the Hawaiian Blue 


By Sarah Bernstein, Expedition Guide on the Safari Explorer

It was a beautiful sunny morning on the first day of our cruise. Everyone had just finished their breakfast and were getting ready for the first snorkel, a “Snorkel 101”.

As we loaded up into the skiffs, you could feel the excitement in the air. For some, this was going to be the very first snorkel of their lives. For others, it was a long-awaited dip in the warm waters of Hawaii.

Untying from the Safari Explorer, we made our way to our snorkel spot of Pawai, just north of the Kilauea Kona shoreline. Minutes into our ride, we heard an exciting radio call from our expedition leader in the skiff in front of us. A whale shark had been spotted! Whale Sharks have been seen off the coast of the Big Island, but it is rare to be in the right place at the right time to see them.

Unlike your average carnivorous shark, whale sharks lack teeth and eat a diet of plankton. These animals can get extremely big –up to 50 feet in length. Their white-spotted pattern helps them to blend into the plankton-filled waters where they feed.

To say that I was excited is an understatement. Both the Expedition Leader and I jumped into the water to assess the situation and see if we may be able to bring our guests into the water. 

The animal we saw was just beautiful - a juvenile whale shark just about 19 feet long. Unfortunately, she was not interested in sticking around long enough for guests to get in the water. But everyone was able to see it from the surface. 

Supercharged and excited by this encounter, we continued to our Snorkel 101 spot. The snorkel itself was beautiful, but the icing on the cake came at the end. On our way back to the ship, when we ran into our whale shark friend again! This time she was hanging out on the surface, much more visible. The excitement in the boats was palpable.

A few guests that were interested had the opportunity to get out of the skiff and snorkel right next to this majestic animal. There is a certain feeling you get after seeing or being in the water with a whale shark: excitement, awe, and wonder all wrapped up in one. Today was a day I’m sure we will all remember.

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