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Melon-Head Whales

Melon-headed whales look just how they sound—they have a big ol’ cone-shaped melon with no discernable beak. Their body is more or less uniformly light grey except for a dark grey face, which is sometimes called the “mask”. Their flippers are long and pointed and their dorsal fin is tall with a pointed tip – reminiscent of its cousin the killer (orca) whale.

Melon-headed whales (which are actually dolphins) love deep water and we’ve only ever seen them on our Niihau + Napali Super Tour. They’re widespread throughout the world’s tropical waters, but they’re not well studied or even frequently seen by humans, so consider yourself very lucky to see this reclusive creature!

Melon-headed whales have extremely strong social bonds and will follow each other everywhere. One time, there was a mass-stranding of melon-headed whales here on Kauai. On July 3 and 4, 2004 an estimated 150-200 melon-headed whales packed into shallow Hanalei Bay for a period of about 28 hours. They were finally gently herded out by members of the community including the Hanalei Canoe Club, local and federal employees, and volunteers and staff with the Hawaiian Islands Stranding Response Group.

Another fun fact about melon-headed whales comes from 2017 when researchers at Kauai’s Pacific Missile Range Facility discovered (through genetic testing of a skin biopsy) a hybrid species they determined was born of a female melon-headed whale and a rough-toothed dolphin! They figured a likely scenario for how the single hybrid came to be was that the female got stranded from her group of melon-heads and ended up traveling with the rough-toothed dolphins. And you know, the birds and the bees.

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