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Posts Tagged ‘Maui Whales’

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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It is 2:15 p.m. on February 10, 2011.  The curtain rises, the stage is set, the show begins.

Act I: As Kaulana left the harbor we came across a cow, calf, escort combination.  We were drawn to the group because the calf had been tail slapping repeatedly.  The mother had not surfaced yet and we stuck around to see what else the calf was going to do.  Shortly after the cow surfaced, an escort came bulldozing over from 50 yards off.  The calf was entirely indifferent and kept going about his playtime.  He (I named him “Flapjack” because of the repeated tail throws, a passenger suggested I refer to the calf as “Jackie” in the event we discovered it was a girl, which we were not able to determine) actually became more active.  The calf began breaching in the direction of our stern.  Once Flapjack was with 25 yards, it was as if he had just noticed a boat was sitting there watching him.  At that point he proceeded to swim a circle around the entire perimeter of our ship, swim back to his mom, and then they went on their way. This picture is of Jackie swimming around the boat.  Check out the gallery to see the tail end of one of Jackie’s breaches.

Intermission

Act II: We entered into whale search mode (a friendly way to tell passengers we don’t have whales near by but we are looking for a good group to follow) after the calf and mother meandered away.   Very quickly, a single whale approached us.  It appeared large, perhaps not entirely full grown, but certainly an older adolescent.  He wasn’t acting as strangely as many teenage whales do, leading me to believe he had a better grasp on proper whale etiquette, thus he was older and more experienced.  He ended up staying with us for 45 minutes, making us late for our return to the harbor.  He just swam back and forth, underneath us, over and over again.  My coworker Kyle had the underwater camera out and we caught some glimpses of him under the water.  Right as he began spy hoping, my camera started flashing, indicating that the battery was running out.  Spy hoping is my favorite behavior – it is a little less common since circumstances need to be just right – so naturally, I started to freak out because I needed these shots!  (A spy hop is when a whale becomes vertical in the water and raises up slowly, just allowing its nose to breach the surface and eventually its eyes as well.  Basically, the whales are checking us out.) I was able to snap a few last minute and awesome shots that are below and in the gallery.  The day flew by and ended with a spectacular encore!

Curtain drops, the end.

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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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Each year there are return customers who come out on the water with us everyday, usually for the first two trips of the day for the best part of the season.  Two of those ladies are a mother and daughter named Midge and Marge.  These ladies have been coming to Maui to enjoy the whales for upwards of 35 years.  Their knowledge and dedication to these amazing creatures is inspiring.  Not only are they wonderfully kind hearted ladies, but they are also amazing photographers, often times finding it difficult whether to take a flip video, shoot with the SLR camera, pull out the point and shoot, or just use the cell phone to document the action.

Their love of these animals began when Midge’s husband needed to relax and take some time away from the office.  After taking a few months each year to hang out with the humpbacks, Midge knows that is was these animals that saved her husband’s life.  Her connection and genuine love is obvious every morning that she walks onto the Kaulana.

I first met Midge, Marge, and Midge’s other daughter Sue, last year. Recently, Marge was showing me pictures from last season and she was generous enough to share with me the jackpot from last season.  Midge captured a full breach with such precision, she would give most wild life photographers a run for their money!  It’s an honor for us to have them on our boat each day.  Hopefully soon I will have a picture of the ladies to share with you.

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