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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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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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Tuesday was the first nice day I have seen since I have been here. And the animals sure seemed to be enjoying the wonderful conditions. We headed out and saw a humpback not doing much, just breathing and moving along.  Soon we noticed a tail slapper going off about a mile out.  We headed off to check him out and as we approached the whale breached.  Most of the boat boat missed it, which seemed frustrating at first, until the two whales put on an incredible, simultaneous performance.  After having about a ten minute down time they came up to breach together.  I think that both animals were adolescent in age, both appearing slightly smaller than a full grown adult. They continued to breach a handful of times, before we had to leave for the rest of our tour. We went on to see Harbor Seals, Mountain Goats, Orcas, Dall’s Porpoise, and lots of seabirds.  All in all an incredible day!

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One of our passengers was able to capture this picture of an extremely mangled tail we saw on one of our trips, entirely putting the plane wing to shame! This picture really makes me wonder…what the heck happened?!

PHOTO PROVIDED BY: Allen Clark / Photoboat.com

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I have added some shots to the gallery from various passengers (and friends) who have sent me pictures.  Check it out!

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Ok, I had A LOT of technical difficulties getting this uploaded.  Turns out, I just needed a much faster internet connection! Here we go a couple videos of the False Killer Whale encounter:

Last year I used to go on a lot of whale watches for fun because I only worked once, sometimes twice, a week.  This year I have not gone on very many because I have been working a bit more. One of my good friends is leaving to hike the Appalachian Trail for the next eight months, so we decided to go out on a trip. Turns out she picked the trip of the century! We saw a species of whale that I have never seen in Hawaii.  Every day, people ask if there are any other types of whales in Maui and every day I say no, but today I realized my normal answer is not exactly truthful.

We saw a pod of at least 50 False Killer Whales.  They look like really big dolphins with rounder faces, and they display behaviors like our humpbacks, which was strange to see. Our boat was in the center of the group and they spanned a quarter mile in every direction.  We saw them tail slap, chin slap, and even breach.  The breaching was incredible; there was at least ten feet between bottom of the tail and the surface of the water.  For those of you familiar with Maui, we followed these animals from the end of the Lahaina harbor channel all the way to Black Rock. Once they reached Black Rock they joined up with Humpbacks and Spinner dolphins.  It was one crazy day! I have a few videos that are on the way and should be up within the next couple of days.

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We went out on the water on Tuesday, and I have to admit that up until very recently the later trips of the day had clearly been the better shows.  On Tuesday, that all changed.   The first trip of the day proved incredible.  We had a cow/calf pair come over to the boat.  The baby was older and was showing signs of developed motor skills.  He was playing around and came over to the bow and was rolling on his back with his peck fins in the air.  Mom, being the protective female she is, spy hopped no more than 10 feet from our boat as her baby continued to play.  It was stunning to watch and left our passengers in a state of pure bliss with a glazed over look of happiness on all of their faces.

The day continued on in a spectacular fashion.  We had a different breaching baby on every single trip.  All of these babies were also in close range, the furthest was 150 yards.  In retrospect, it is hard to recall each trip individually because all the flying calves began to blend together. Alas, the life of a whale watcher is so difficult! For me the most exciting part of the day was that I FINALLY caught my very own breach on film. It’s not great, but it’s a start.

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Although I have an infinite love for the whales, I am still obsessed with dolphins.  We have an expression out here in Maui that perfectly describes why we get so excited when we see dolphins, it’s something along the lines of, “Any day on the water you can go out and find the whales, but the dolphins find you.”  We have three types of dolphins (Bottlenose, Spotted, and Spinners) but one stands out among the others.  The Spinner dolphins are smaller than the other varieties, and have babies that are so adorable it is hard to describe, other than to say they look like little grey, spinning footballs.

There are, as far as I can tell, two large pods of spinners.  They mostly hang out further away from Maui, typically on the backside of Lanai.  I have only seen them a handful of times and it had been a while, I was itching for a sighting! On the last trip on Sunday we had gone south and an adolescent whale came over toward us.  I had spotted a pod of spinners that were getting closer but we couldn’t move because our whale was too close.  Finally, as we broke away we were late returning to the harbor but Captain Dave announced, “This is for you Katie!” I came out of the cabin and he was speeding away from the harbor and headed directly toward the pod. I was so excited, and of course wasn’t able to catch a picture of them spinning (when they jump into the air they can do up to 7 revolutions) but I got a couple of great shots as they were riding our wake.  Above is the whale that mugged us, below are the spinners.

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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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