The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Humpback whales go for a surf at Pipeline

Mother and calf catch a set wave at the iconic spot on Oahu's North Shore; rare event is photographed by J.T. Gray

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Humpback whales go right on a large set wave at Pipeline; photo by ©J.T. Gray/NorthShoreSurfPhotos

A photographer has captured what might be the only image showing large whales riding a wave at iconic Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore.

J.T. Gray of North Shore Surf Photos arrived Saturday to find a late-season swell had shown, minus the hordes of surfers that generally greet each swell.

As a bodyboarder was catching one wave, two humpback whales materialized in a larger second wave and rode the swell just long enough for Gray to capture the moment.

While it’s common for dolphins to ride waves, this is rare behavior for a large whale species.

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Photo by ©J.T. Gray/NorthShoreSurfPhotos

“The whales were 75 to 100 yards east of Pipeline and playing for a while, then swam to about 10 yards outside of the lineup,” Gray told GrindTV. “A set came in and the bodyboarder caught the first wave, and the humpbacks caught the second.”

Gray added, “Whales frequent Hawaii in the winter months, but never that close to shore.”

The rare image was posted to Ocean Defender–Hawaii’s Facebook page on Monday, and as of Tuesday morning it had been shared more than 4,000 times. Gray gave permission for its use for this story.

He said the whales were a mother and calf, and it’s possible that the whales were just playing, but it’s also possible that the mother was keeping tabs on her stray calf.

Said Ocean Defender’s Oriana Kalama, “Yes, it’s the first time anyone has seen a humpback surf or get that close to the waves, but they do get really close to shore. Humpbacks sing, breach, and, if you ask me, they dance too. If you ever have the chance to see them underwater, you would see how much they seem to enjoy to move their pectoral fins and, in a way, flirt with each other when in groups.

“So why wouldn’t they surf, too? After all, they are Hawaiians by birth.”

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