Archive for the ‘Hawaii’ Category

I have to admit, during our off season I do not check this blog very often. When the whales are gone, apparently, so am I! However, I have received a few comments recently which had reinvigorated me, and reinforced how very lucky I, along with my coleagues are, that we get to enjoy these animals when they migrate to our home.

At the moment, I am giddy for them to arrive. The first sighting has already occurred, about 2 weeks ago off of Kauai, but that does not mean I am any less excited for the first time I see my returning buddies!

After reading these recent comments, and reviewing the most recent footage, I remembered how special of an experience it is to look a whale in the eye. I recall once watching a very informative Hannah Bernard video (filmed in the early 80’s, clearly) which mentioned “looking into the eye of a whale is like looking into the eye of God.” Not being a very religious person, I didn’t connect with that too much at the time. Now, after having this experience several times for myself, I can truthfully say, it is unreal. In a single moment, a person can be humbled beyond any expectation of a humbled human life. To look a creature in the eye that is not only so large, but is also so old… is nothing short of magical. Even for the most non-beleiving among us, it would be hard to classify such an experience as anything less than spiritual.

For me, I realized in a very quick, very minute moment, that no matter how much science we have in our favor, we will never understand the world in which they live. We will never know what they know about our own planet. We will never see what they have seen. They live in a very close, yet a very alien world to us. I will forever consider them as inspirational, enduring, and incredibly wise creatures. I hope that the importance I place on these monumental examples of life that is sustained in our oceans will intrigue others, just enough, to make changes in their own lives to help this eco system prosper.

This, is my hope for our collective future.

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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

Today, we had a snorkel trip in the morning, followed by a whale watch.  If any of you were around today, you would know it was a pretty rainy day.  This typically gets me excited, any time there’s a slight change in weather, it is kind of nice!  The whales do not mind a change in weather, in fact, I think they prefer it. We saw a few breachers in the final minutes of our snorkel trip.

As we embarked on our whale watch, I was literally freezing.  Probably the coldest I have ever been since I have lived in this state (only exception may be Haleakala at sunrise!) We didn’t have to go very far out of the harbor before we came across a curious adolescent, one of my favorite types of whales! They come here with the intention of learning about mating. Humpbacks reach sexual maturity at 5-8 years, but the North Pacific whales don’t begin reproducing until their mid-late teens.  Which means that in the mean time, they will come down here to learn about fighting and how to attract the attention of a female.  But for the most part, in my opinion, they are bored, which means they do weird things to fill the time…just like our teenagers =)

This little guy was near Kaulana, left Kaulana and came to check out our boat, Trilogy Elua.  He stayed with us for the majority of our trip.  He spy hopped, breached, threw his tail, slapped his tail, rolled over, pec slapped, breathed, looked at us, and just checked us out.  He was amazing.  This was the first whale of the season I could tell for sure was a male.  When he rolled over you could clearly see he didn’t have a hemispherical lobe, a basketball sized lump only females have.  Check out the attached pictures, that’s me in the north face jacket…like i said, it was cold!!

Photo provided by Patrick Devault

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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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Today was not the most exciting of whale watching days.  Pretty slow, actually with relatively little activity considering this is now peak season.  But there was one point during today, in which I could not act like a normal person.  I was losing it, and my heart was racing.  We had two whales approach us.  Both adults, we weren’t able to determine the sex on either of these guys.  But, they stayed very close to one another.  For the majority of our encounter, one was swimming on top of the other.

When they initially approached, they were at out 4 o’clock position (think of the boat like a clock) and just paused, side by side.  They continued to stare at us for a solid ten minutes.  It was like a very long, drawn out, starring contest with these two, 50 ton animals. I have said many times before that I love to see spy hopping.  As the whales came around the back of the boat, that’s exactly what they started to do. Simultaneously. One whale came particularly high out of the water on a few occasions. They ended up hanging out with us for about a half hour.  I can’t say enough, just how much I love my job!

The conditions today were amazing.  Well over 100 foot visibility, flat as a lake, just perfect.  And today was the first time this season my absolute, favorite thing happened.  I made eye contact with one of the whales.  I struggle to describe the sense of calm, and awe, and mystery, and humility that comes over you when this happens. These animals know so much more about our world then we ever will. I suppose I am a bit jealous of them in that moment, too. To know all that they know, would be an incredible thing.

The pic above shows the rainbow produced from the exhale.  The one below shows how close these guys really were.  Check out the gallery for a few more shots from today and also from Thursday.

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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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On Wednesday we came across a strange little whale the other day.  A research group was utilizing one of UFO parasails boats and the whale was basically rubbing his head and pec fins on the boat itself.  We were standing by watching this take place and completely jealous he hadn’t chosen our boat instead.  But soon enough he came over closer to us, and although he was touching our boat, he put on quite the show. Now, one reason this encounter was so interesting was because when male whales sing their infamous “song” they usually go head down, tail up.  This happens between 50 – 100 feet underwater.  This whale went into that position but was not singing, but just hanging about 10 feet from the surface for us to enjoy.  He would then slowly come up, tail first, breathe and resume his same position.  We decided to call him Justin Blubber.

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Whale Tales 2012 was a huge success! It was an amazing day, this was the first year I was actually able to get work off and enjoy such a wonderful event.  I contacted Whale Trust’s Meagan Jones about getting involved in their non-profit and she got me onboard to help out and volunteer.  Every person I met was so wonderful and it became clear very quickly how much of their lives they have dedicated to learning about our world.

This was a two day event that was filled with lectures from many of the top whale researchers around the world to educate the local community about the newest information to come from recent whale seasons.  It was incredible to learn about the methods used for disentangling a whale, to hear how Jim Darling’s data contributed to saving a small population of Gray whales, how confusing of a topic Humpback mating still is, and the predatory tactics of transient orcas were just of few of the highlights for me. Not to mention, of course, meeting some of these researchers.  That was the ultimate, like A-List celebrity sightings, in the whale world!

Bruce Mate ended the lectures with a very inspiring request.  He asked that all of us consider putting a portion of our life’s total worth toward the environment.  The majority of the audience was an older crowd, 50’s plus.  He asked that we all put it into our will that we will pledge 10% to saving our planet.  The message basically stated that it doesn’t matter which part of the environment is your favorite, or which part you’d most like to preserve, but to help save one part, will help to save it all.

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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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