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Archive for the ‘Baby Humpbacks’ Category

Photo provided by Patrick Devault

This whale season has seemed a bit odd so far.  Typically as we head out into the Basin each day there are spouts in every direction and choosing which to pursue is the hardest part.  This hasn’t exactly been the case recently.  It feels like the whales aren’t really around anymore. It feels like it is April, when just yesterday it was still February.  That being said, our first whale watch yesterday was pretty bad.  One of the slower ones I have worked in a while…until the end.  We had a mom calf and two escorts approach our boat and mug us for at least a half an hour.

I took no pictures, unfortunately, because when they approached I grabbed a snorkel set and dunked my face (but I was pretty much drenched head to toe in the end) in the water to check them out.  At first when I looked under water the mom was about 10 feet from me and just starring right at me.  The baby was on her nose and they rounded the stern so it was hard for me to get a look.  As I lifted my head up, I realized an escort had been coming in from behind where I was sitting.  He exhaled from about 8 feet away, and very nearly scared me to death! It’s a little surprising to discover you had no idea a 50 ton animal was sneaking up on you.

That escort ended up diving but on his way down did all kinds of acrobatic maneuvers, which brought to light something that now seems so obvious, but had never crossed my mind before.  I have always been used to these guys “showing off” on the surface, but never gave any thought to how they “show off” under water.  It was pretty amazing to see the grace, speed, and maneuverability first hand.  The mom and calf circled the boat and came back around.

I was watching them come and go until at one point I thought the mom was going to nudge me.  It was hard to keep myself in one place while this massive whale was coming straight toward me.  She was moving slowly, but still.  I was moving my arm and waving and was watching the babies eye following my hand as the mom approached.  She was just a few feet from my hand before they turned away.  It was incredible.  I was shaking and speechless.

Captain Patrick was driving yesterday and climbed up the mast to take pictures during our mugging.  He got some amazing shots and footage, like the one posted above.

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Today, as we left for our second whale watch of the day, we very quickly came across a classic example of a “calf presentation”.  The cow and calf that we came across slowly approached our boat.  We were down wind and kept getting pushed back from the pair, yet they continued to follow us.  They eventually came over, nice and close. It was a moment where you can relate to these enormous animals and you can see exactly what is going on in their minds.  The mother was introducing her very young baby to a boat.  You could almost hear the lesson as they began to make a complete circle around our vessel, “This is a boat.  There are a lot of them out there that you will see in your long life.  Stay away from these spinning things, they will hurt you.  Oh yeah, and the animals on these boats start to act funny if you get close enough.  Other than that, they are not too bad.”

That’s how I imagine the conversation would go, anyway 🙂

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Yesterday we got mugged, big time. The trip we were on was actually a snorkel trip, but on the way back from Olowalu we came across some very curious whales.  We had no idea that they were going to get this close to us.  The video I have posted here is a little deceiving, I don’t know a lot about cameras, but I am told my GoPro has a very wide angle lens, and makes things look farther away than they actually are.  I assure you, if my arm had been 4 feet longer, I would have touched this whale! At one point I thought he was going to nudge the boat hook my camera was attached to. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, these animals are amazing and I hope I can share my excitement with you through this video.  Please pay special attention to how often the whale looks directly at the camera. It makes you wonder, who’s watching who??

 

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To try to put todays whale watches into words, would be a verbal impossibility.  Our first whale watch of the day was simply, perfection.  We saw every possible behavior you could hope to see while out in the Maui waters.  We had several muggings, mom/calf/escort, a pair traveling, and a very odd adolescent (that I’ll get to shortly).  The cow/calf/escort mugging was enough to make the whale watch great, but that was only the beginning.  The pair that came over to us, were on a very direct path.  The strange thing was that they were traveling quickly and right at the surface, the result was like a shark approaching it’s prey.  There was a wake coming off the dorsal fins as they came closer.  You could see our passengers eyes getting larger with anticipation trying to figure out what was going to happen next.  They eventually slid gracefully under the boat and resurfaced on our port side.

The adolescent we had seen from fairly far off, and I was skeptical it was even a whale.  This bizarre little guy was spy hopping, but for no apparent reason.  He was by himself, just gently bobbing at the surface for the better part of an hour.  We eventually got closer to him and realized he was completely vertical in the water, slowly rising and sinking beneath the surface.  Due to this, we decided to call him Bob.  As Bob went to breathe it was clear the back portion of his body changed drastically in color.  His pedunkal area was a much lighter shade of grey.  This could be his natural coloring, or it could be the result of sea lice.  At first, this had us a little worried.  With his minimal amount of movement and the discoloration we began to think something was wrong.  After getting a little distance between us, Bob proceeded to breach about 5 times before leaving us.  This was a great indicator that he is, in fact, nice and healthy!

Like many people, I am now a proud owner of a GoPro camera.  I used this for whale watching for the first time today, and after editing out far too many minutes of open water, I created the video attached here.  My GoPro is suppose to be HD, but based on the result I’m pretty sure I lost some of that quality during the editing process.  I guess that’s what I’ll work on next time, Enjoy!

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It is official (or actually, it was official on December 15, I’m just a little late to the game!) whale watch season 2012 is officially open for business!  The whale sightings began around mid October this season and the sightings seemed very promising.  Since those initial sightings however, the quantity of whales and the behaviors we have became accustomed to, is, so far, a bit slower than usual.  Talk around the whale community is suggesting that because of the nice summer in Alaska, with extra sunshine, and therefore extra food, it has led some whales take their time coming home to Maui.  Since the start of the 2012 calendar year the activity has seen a significant jump.  More reported muggings, higher numbers, and just all around better activity.

This year I am working for Trilogy, and went on my first whale watch as a naturalist, and it did NOT disappoint.  We started out by leaving Ma’alaea harbor with two adults breaching in the distance.  On our way there, we came across a calf who proceeded to breach several times.  This calf was very grey in color, usually a sign of a younger baby as they darken in color as they reach maturity.  As the mom surfaced, she whisked the little one away. We followed for a while but decided to move on to what lookd like a competition group.  As we approached, the whales dove.  Five whales went down, but as I was standing on the bow it was clear the group had broken up.  Two whales came under our boat and mugged us.  When they resurfaced it was close enough to get a whiff of the whales breath, which I might add, is not very pleasant! Think about four month old fish odor, and you’ll be on the right track. I did have a wildlife photographer on board, and he will be sending pictures soon.

This was certainly a fantastic start to my 2012 whale season, cant wait to see everyone that decides to visit this year.  It is going to be another great one!

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We have had a lovely turn of events and have had the whales return, well sort of.  Although in general the whales are slowly making their way back to Alaska, the Big Red Boat had the whales quieted down for several days.  When I went out on the water yesterday, we saw a huge jump in activity from the last few days.  Certainly, a relief.

During our first trip we saw a group of three small whales, very odd from the start.  We quickly realized one was obviously a calf, but the other two were not large.  The largest was definitely the mother based on proximity to the calf but the third whale was way to small to be an escort.  In fact, he was roughly the size of a yearling (a whale born in Maui last season and has returned with his mother the following year).  If our assumptions are correct it means we saw a mom traveling with two of her kids!  This is something I have never seen before, let alone heard of before.  Typically a mother will give birth every 2-3 years, to avoid the strain of carrying a calf while also nursing a calf — but our sighting seemed to defy that standard.

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Recently we saw a cow/calf/escort combo and the baby was copying the tail throws of the male.  It appeared to be learning from the male, similar to how we assume the female teaches her baby.  It’s possible the calf is a sponge at this age, like our babies are, and can learn from anything in their environment. Check out the video below!

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