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SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 31) - Monty Keel was off Rota, exploring underwater caves and geological anomalies when he saw a large group of Melon-Headed Whales off the coast of Rota.

The mammals, called Peponacephias, are members of the delphinidae family and are about 9 feet long.

"I don’t expect to experience anything like that again in my life," said Keel.

The 38-year-old underwater explorer is one of very few who have witnessed these mammals in proximity to the island.

Charley and Dawn Caulder, residents of Okinawa, Japan, with Mark Michael, owner of Dive Rota, had the rare privilege of diving up close to the whales.

The group of whales totaled about 600 to 700, combined with some dolphins.

The Melon-Headed Whale is pelagic and scours the tropic and sub tropic oceans for food and mating. They travel in large groups consisting of about 100 to 500 whales in a family unit. Occasionally a large group can consist of up to 2,000 in number.

"The rare look at the Melon-Headed Whales up close provided an invigorating experience for myself and the divers on that day," said Michael.

Rota is an island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of several low coral and volcanic islands in the west pacific.

The coast of Rota is acclaimed for its clear underwater visibility. Diving in the Marianas – Saipan, Tinian, and Rota – is a year-round recreation. In the spring and summer months, from April to September, trade winds decrease to allow boat access to all of the islands’s prime dive spots.

August 31, 2004

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