Archive for the ‘Sighting of the Week’ 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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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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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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Bubble netting is a bit of an elusive hunting technique among Humpbacks.  This is a highly specialized way of feeding in which whales come together in “associations” (sometimes having been a part of these feeding associations for several decades).  Essentially, each whale has a role/job.  One of those whales will swim in a spiral tightening towards the end, while simultaneously releasing bubbles through its blow hole.  The goal is to disorient fish and confuse them; thus, stunning them into place and allowing the whales to come up to the surface, with mouths open, and take in thousands of fish.

First, it is only the North Pacific population that is known to use this as a hunting technique.  Second, after coming to Alaska I have realized that it is mostly the whales out of South East Alaska (Juneau area primarily) that employ this amazing strategy.  Today it was sighted in Kenai Fjords National Park.  I regret to admit that I was not onboard to witness this extremely rare behavior, but I have heard they recorded the encounter with a hydrophone.  If I can get a digital form or any pictures, I will be sure to post them immediately!

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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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As we head toward the end of March there has certainly been a change in what is happening out in the water.  we have been seeing primarily competition groups and calf/cow/escort combinations.  Captain dave recently told me a statistic: 85% of cow/calf combos at this time of the year will have an escort tagging along.  That is a high number and reveals how desperately these males will try to mate before having to head back 3,200 miles without food.  Yesterday was a fairly slow day, but on the last trip we got mugged by a cow/calf/escort.

We first approached the group because the calf was breaching and it was the most activity we had seen all day.  They made there way over to the boat, and the baby was large.  After spending 20 minutes with the whales we realized it was a little girl whale hanging out with her mom.  Mom was using the boat as a barricade between herself and the boat.  Although the calf was quite large, she continued to stay right on her moms nose while she was near the boat. The escort would snort and snarl as he cruised by and seemed truly irritated.  Every time the male came by the female would inch closer to us.  It was an incredible encounter the ended our day on a high note.  Kyle got some incredible under water footage, I will have it up soon.

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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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