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Archive for the ‘Competition Pods’ Category

Yesterday was an epic battle of the males as they fought over our single ladies.  Two things were notable throughout the day. The first was interesting, and something I have never seen before.  There was a group of about 6-8 males, fighting and getting really aggressive.  At one point, one of the males was laying on top of another.  They surfaced together several times and it was clear that he was using his body weight to hold the other one down.  Similar to how I describe orcas attacking calves, this whale was apparently attempting to hold the other under, which, if successful, would stop the other male from surfacing and getting air.

As our day came to a close, we were getting ready to head in after a sunset sail. Captain Kevin noticed a VERY large competition group out toward the wind line. We went in and found what must have been 12 + whales. These guys were incredibly aggressive. They were up and down, changing course, altering their speed…they were all over the place. It was a good show initially but what was amazing was when we left, the group followed us. It may have been the female enjoying the protection of the boat, but regardless, they surfaced near us and the battle continued beneath Trilogy IV. When they made their way to the starboard bow, we saw one animal take a head bash to the belly, meanwhile, others were landing on top of each other. We saw bloodied noses and worn down tubercles. It is clear that we have rounded the hill on the 2013 whale season and, on the back side of this season, it will be a brutal fight for the final females lingering in the basin.

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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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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 went out on Thursday and had a couple of great muggings throughout the day.  For the most part we have been seeing cow/calf/escort combinations recently.  On the second trip yesterday one mother presented her baby to out boat.  They will do this to familiarize their calves with the boats in Maui, since the boats will be a part of their lives every year when they migrate down here.  The baby was on her moms nose and rolled over onto her back with both pec fins up in the air.  At one point the mom was coming over to the bow and the baby came too.  As she was rolling back to her tummy she looked up and made eye contact with me.  There are few things I enjoy more then watching a whale, watching us.

We got to see some of these whales up close as well, since the babies were either presented or just were interested and came over to check us out.  The middle two trips were amazing and left us feeling like it was another great day on the water!

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At the end of last week we had a private tour for a group of 136 foreign tourists.  It was a great trip all and all but the only problem was the whales were too good.  So good that the interpreters were watching whales instead of helping Raquel and I bartend for the group, which was especially hard when we were more interested in just watching the competitive group going crazy.

There were about five boats surrounding the group of seven and each whale was showing different behaviors.  Two were breaching, one was tail thrashing, another pec slapping, and so on.  It was constant action.  Finally, as the bar slowed down I was able to grab my camera and check them out.  The group had started to break up but I was able to catch one of the males as he was heading away and chin slapping repeatedly.  After looking at the picture more closely, I can’t help but notice…is this whale fat?

Once I upload the picture, you will understand what I am talking about.  There is a definite size difference between this whale and others we are used to seeing.  Clearly, he is not an overweight whale but probably has just arrived from Alaska.  I have never noticed some of the smaller differences in these animals that I am starting to notice this season such as dorsal fin differences, weight variances, the shapes of spouts, etc.  The picture is coming soon!

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I have claimed for quite sometime that I am not a good photographer.  It is something I am very interested in learning more about but, especially when it comes to wild life, I am utterly lost.  Typically, the boat will rock at the worst time, my camera is too slow, I zoom in too much and miss something… there is a wide range of issues I have.  Yesterday, however, I caught a great shot.

We have been seeing a lot of competition pods in the last week.  A competition pod is one of the two times humpbacks come together in large numbers (the other is for feeding in Alaska).  Here in Maui the males will follow a single female, all competing for her attention and hoping to be the one she selects to mate with (although recent research has shown she may not just select a single male, but rather several).  Comp pods tend to be aggressive, fast paced, and erratic in their heading or direction.

This picture very clearly shows a male that has filled his ventral pleats (the elastic pleats under his chin) to appear larger to the female he is pursuing. I do not remember seeing this happen very frequently last season, but I have seen it several times already this year.

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