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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, 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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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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