Swell time Despite the Swell

Aloha,

Well the surf that came up on Thursday decided to stick around for most of the weekend, so we were forced to cancel a lot of our Whale Watch Cruises. But on the few cruises we did take out, it seemed that the whales were as happy to see us as we were to see them. For instance, on Saturday’s Wake Up with the Whales Cruise on Seasmoke from Anaeho’omalu Bay, we got to see 7 breaches. But that wasn’t all. It seemed like no matter which way we looked, there was something going on at the surface — peduncle throws, tail lobs, pectoral slaps. Perhaps the best of all though, was when we found ourselves the object of interest for a Mom and her calf who decided to surface right next to us while we were all looking the other way. By Sunday’s Whales and Cocktails Cruise, we had some wind along with the swell, but we still got to see Mom and calf, and we also got to see a lone adult cruising along the surface.
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: A distinguishing morphological (body) characteristic of the Humpback is the length of her pectoral fins. Their average length is 1/3rd the length of the Humpback’s body (approx. 15 feet). The genus name for the Humpback (Megaptera) describes the fin – the translation from Latin for Megaptera is “Big – Winged”)

Does Big Surf Affect the Humpbacks?

Aloha,

As predicted, the surf was HUGE on the west side of the island on Thursday, causing us to cancel all of our charters. Since the closer to shore you get, the more you feel the water movement, it made me wonder how the Humpbacks handle high surf days. Do they move out to sea to avoid the surge?
Throughout my career as a whale naturalist, I’ve been on lots of cruises where the swell has been up. Though I’ve never been officially involved in a study tracking the movement of the whales, I have noticed anecdotally that we have to go further from shore to find the Humpbacks on big surf days. But those observations aren’t scientifically valid ones.
So, I spent some time looking through published research to see if anyone else has observed and documented this correlation.
A scan of the literature didn’t help me much with this question…but I did find recently published research that found that calves are more likely to play around on the surface when it’s rough than when it’s calm (they may get excited by all the wave action and want to see what it feels like)…and that male calves surface without mom more frequently than female calves, and stay on the surface longer. Since surface play may help to build muscles and increase myoglobin (which helps with oxygen storage so the whales can go longer between breaths), these young males might actually be preparing themselves for the different social life they’ll live when they grow up.
I also found other recently published research where the researchers found that Humpbacks switched from primarily vocal to primarily surface generated communication (breaching/peduncle throwing etc) in rougher oceans — they posited that the sound from a big splash travels across greater frequencies and therefore might be more easily detected by other Humpbacks in a noisy environment.
I’m still searching for research about whether Humpbacks are affected by the surf…if you find anything, please send it my way!
Have a great weekend. I’ll send out our Weekend Recap on Monday.
Mahalo,
Claire

Delicious, Nutritious Humpback Whale Milk

Aloha,

We started out our Wednesday with some excellent sightings on both Manu Iwa and Seasmoke for our Wake Up with the Whales Cruise. On Manu Iwa, we saw more than 20 Humpbacks within a mile from us, but many of them were much closer. We got to see a Mom and her baby unaccompanied by an escort. Baby breached a few times (probably burning off some of the energy he gains from drinking all that milk). We also saw a few HUGE (45 foot plus) whales — one of whom surfaced within 20 feet of us while we were idling with the hydrophone in the water. And speaking of the hydrophone — we heard a whole symphony when we deployed it today. While all this was going on, we also saw peduncle throws, and lots of pectoral slaps. Since Seasmoke departed at the same time from the same location, we decided to look for our “own” whales, and boy, did we find them! We watched a calf and his Mom for awhile, before another whale surfaced less than 100 feet from us. We actually didn’t know which way to look for a lot of the charter since there were whales everywhere! We saw lots of pec slaps, breaches, and peduncle throws, and also heard some pretty clear singing when we deployed our hydrophone.
On our 10:00 Cruise from Kawaihae, we found a Mom/Calf pod just north of the harbor. We watched them for awhile and got to see baby breach before we headed off to watch some of the other bigger whales we were seeing out a bit further. We came across a competitive pod of 5 whales who were doing their usual competitive aggressive behaviors — head lunging, peduncle throwing, and bubble blowing. At one point, they all passed within about 50 feet of our idling boat. On the way back to the harbor, we found our Mom and baby again. We stopped to watch baby breach 8 more times…but had to head back to the dock. As we left (which it was just killing us to do, but we had to get back), we watched baby continuing to breach over and over and over again.
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: Being mammals, Humpback Moms feed their calves milk. But Humpback milk isn’t just any old milk — it’s extremely rich with a fat content of approximately 50%! Human milk contains only about 4.5% fat. Supposedly, Humpback milk tastes like “sweetened cod liver oil” …but I don’t know that from experience!

Oh Baby!

Aloha,

On Tuesday’s Wake up With the Whales on Seasmoke, we got to see three different Mom/Calf/Escort pods. We also saw a lot of surface activity from other adult humpbacks in the area including 6 or 7 full breaches (one was just 50 yards from the boat — sure surprised all of us)! We also saw some peduncle throws and a few pec slaps from other whales. And on our Whales and Cocktails Cruise we also got to see some calves. We actually saw two different Mom/Calf/Escort pods. Baby was pretty active in that second pod — up on the surface a lot, and even breaching. In between watching those two pods, we got surrounded by a competitive pod. These whales were really acting aggressively towards each other. We saw lots of lunges, peduncle throws and tail lobs — even a few pec slaps.
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: Researchers have observed that female Humpbacks with calves are accompanied by a male escort about 83% of the time during the winter season in Hawaii. Since nursing moms rarely get pregnant, we’re not sure why these males are hanging around…one theory is that the escort is trying to make a good impression on the female so that when she is receptive, she’ll consider the possibility of mating with him. Other researchers theorize that she puts up with the company of one male, hoping that he’ll scare off other amorous suitors (maybe dealing with one male at a time is better than having to deal with 2, 3, 4 or more).

Babies!

Aloha,

On Monday’s Breakfast with the Whales Cruise out of Anaeho’omalu Bay, guests saw more than 20 different Humpbacks. A lot of the activity was between 1/2 of a mile to 1 mile away. We did find a Mom/Baby/Escort pod who chose to stay about 120 yards from us for quite awhile.. Baby was mostly hanging out on the surface, spouting and then diving down to mom. And as usual, both adults were surfacing much less frequently than the calf. Mom didn’t seem to be bothered by the presence of the escort — at least she didn’t do anything aggressive on the surface to indicate displeasure. Oh, and our onboard naturalist Jason reports that the boat was followed by a shark for awhile just outside of Anaeho’omalu Bay. Jason didn’t report the shark’s species though. On our Whales and Cocktails Cruise, upon leaving the bay, we spotted a small spout off the Hilton Waikoloa Village so headed that way. When we got there, we could see that baby was accompanied by Mom and an Escort but noticed a few other big whales around. These others must have spotted Mom too, because they began to give chase. Mom and baby both tail lobbed a few times and after diving, surfaced fairly close to us. The two newcomers to the pod must have gotten the message because they disappeared, and Mom, baby and the original escort headed off together.
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: Humpback Whales play host to all kinds of other animals. Besides the barnacles we often see on the Humpbacks’ flukes and other skin surfaces, the whales can also carry tape worms, lung worms, sinus flukes, and whale lice (which are related to skeleton shrimp) among others. Not all of these parasites actually harm the whale (which means that technically, they can’t really all be considered “parasites”). In fact, the barnacles might actually benefit the male Humpbacks who appear to use the sharp edges of the shells (perhaps inadvertently) as weapons during competitive battles.

Intense Sightings All Weekend

Aloha,

The whales were everywhere this weekend, and we ran a lot of different cruises, so I’ll just recap highlights from a few of them. On Friday’s10:00 Whale Watch, Captain Baker reports seeing a couple of pods of 3 whales harassing each other for the duration of the cruise which provided lots of surface action to watch. Guests also saw one whale do a complete breach just 120 yards from the boat. This guy was totally out of the water, and everyone got to see it (which is kind of unusual; it’s much more common that most of us are looking a different direction until we hear the shouts from the lucky people who see the whale’s rostrum exit the water)! And on the Whales and Cocktails Cruise we saw lots of spouting and lots of fluking. We also got to see 2 lazy breaches from a whale about 200 yards away from us. He only got half his body out of the water, but he did land on his back both times.
On Saturday’s 10:00 cruise from Kawaihae, we started out with a single whale who breached 4 times in a row, and then did 7 peduncle throws — which certainly got our attention. But after that expenditure of energy, he just swam down the coast spouting and diving. Then we found a pod of Mom/Baby/Escort offshore of the Mauna Kea Resort. We watched the interaction between the 3 of them for the rest of our cruise.
On Sunday’s Wake up With the Whales, we hardly got a break from the action the whole trip. Not only did we see every surface activity in the book, but we had a whale breach not more than 100 feet from us, and at one point two whales surfaced just in front of our idling boat while one whale was tail lobbing right at our stern. On the 10:00 Cruise from Kawaihae, the whales were eerily quiet — until the last 30 minutes when a sub-adult started doing peduncle throw after peduncle throw. Some of us counted 15 — some of us counted 17. By our 3:00 departure for the Whale & Cocktails Cruise, it had gotten kind of windy,and the Humpbacks were reflecting that energy. We watched at least 6 pods of two whales, plus a few competitive pods — and according to Captain Mark, saw lots of tail lobs, peduncle throws, head lunges and breaches from these pods.
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: A Humpback Whale doesn’t reach sexual maturity till it’s about 35 feet long (age 5 or 6 for females, and a little bit later for males). Researchers have observed that most Humpbacks in the North Pacific don’t begin calving successfully till they’re at least 10 years old – the mean average is 11.8 years. In the North Atlantic, Humpbacks generally give birth for the first time between ages 5 and 7.Baby Breaches

Everything you can Imagine a Humpback Doing

Aloha,

Guests aboard Thursday’s Whales and Cocktails Cruise got to see basically everything you could imagine a Humpback doing in Hawaii. We saw multiple breaches — so many we lost count — (including one from a calf), pec slaps, head lunges, peduncle throws, and tail lobs. And to top it off, a lot of this activity was just 20 yards or so from our idling boat! There was so much activity going on that we never had to travel more than about a mile from the bay – we spent the whole cruise between Anaeho’omalu and the Hilton. Oh, and when we dropped the hyrdophone into the water, we heard quite a bit too. A lot of the chorus seemed to be pretty far away, but there were a couple of very loud, clear voices (indicating the presence of some submerged singers very close by).
Mahalo and have a great weekend. I’ll check in again with a recap on Monday.
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: Just how difficult is it for a 40 ton, 45 foot long animal to “fly” from the sea in a total breach? Observers have reported seeing Humpbacks breach after only two kick strokes for propulsion. Based on the formula for calculating horsepower, measurements of laminar flow around cetacean skin (how water flows past the skin of the animal), girth and drag in the water, the breaching whale is producing between 1500 and 1700 horsepower in order to “catch air”. We used to think it was closer to 5000 horsepower, but with the aid of a calculator and more accurate measurements, we’ve been able to recalculate more accurately…and even though a lot less power is required than we thought, try this yourself next time you’re in the water. We’re betting you won’t get very far!

Baby Breaches Too

Aloha,

On Wednesday’s Wake up With the Whales, we got to see a competitive pod of 5 whales charging around on the surface. We saw a few head lunges from this pod and heard lots of heavy breathing. We also saw some breaches from different Humpbacks a bit further out. On our 10:00 Cruise from Kawaihae we got to see two different cow/calf pods. We haven’t seen very many calves yet this year, so these whales were a welcome site. And what was even more welcome was when baby did a full breach right next to our idling boat…followed by a full breach from Mom! You should have heard the yells of excitement coming from the boat…incredible. We also got a chance to deploy the hyrdophone and were able to hear lots of singing, but one whale’s voice really stood out – this guy must have been really close by. And finally, on our Whales and Cocktails Cruise, we had to have seen more than 20 different whales, and boy were they active. We watched whales breaching in all directions, and some of them were just 200 yards from the boat. We also saw some pec slapping…but it was the breaches that had us yelling for more! A lot of these whales were really big adults, but we did see a Mom/Baby pod, and even baby got in on all the excitement doing a breach of his own.
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: The gestation period for a Humpback whale is about 11 months, which means the calves we’re seeing this year were conceived last winter. We can only estimate the gestation period because oddly, researchers have never observed the same female mating and then giving birth (in fact, there has never been documented observation of any humpback copulation or calving at all)!

Object of interest

Aloha,

As is par for the course in the middle of January, we saw lots of Humpbacks all day on Tuesday. On the Wake Up with the Whales Cruise, the highlights included some pretty close-by pec slaps from one whale, lots of tail lobs from some other Humpbacks, and 4 different breaches. On our Whales and Cocktails Cruise, we found ourselves the object of interest for a competitive pod of 6 whales. We assume these whales are much more interested in each other than they are in us, but even though we stopped the boat, the pod swam to us and spent more than 30 minutes right around us before swimming off together. If there was a female in the pod (and of course, we couldn’t determine the whales’ genders for sure), was she using our boat as an obstacle between herself and those males? It sure looked like that to us!
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: When we watch a surface active competitive pod of whales, we assume it is comprised of one female either leading or being chased by a group of males. It often appears that every male is competing with every other male for access to the female. Recently researchers have observed that male humpbacks may form coalitions, working together to corral the female so that one may have easier access to her.

Humpbacks Singing LIVE

Aloha,

Our week started out really fun. On Monday’s Wake Up with the Whales, we must have seen spouts from at least 2 dozen different whales — maybe more. We saw two different competitive pods of 4 whales each charging around on the surface about a mile from us…and even had one competitive pod duck under the boat. But the highlight of the day was the Humpback who decided to spend 15 minutes underneath us blowing bubbles. We know that a Humpback in  a competitive pod will often blow streams of bubbles through his blowholes and mouth, most likely to disrupt the vision of the whales chasing behind him. And researchers have even seen bubbles coming out of – to put it delicately – the other end of the whale. Our bubble blower wasn’t surrounded by other whales at the time, so we’re not quite sure what he was doing underneath us, but it sure was amazing to see! And on the Whales and Cocktails Cruise, besides seeing a lot of activity, we heard a lot too…listen to this
Mahalo,
Claire
Captain Claire’s Whale Fact of the Day: Ok…so I know this fact isn’t about Humpbacks, but it is oddly interesting to me. Researchers have observed schools of herring, while being pursued by orcas (killer whales), generating extensive gas bubble releases from their anuses (flatulence). Due to the density difference of these bubbles compared to the surrounding sea water, these researchers theorize that the herring gas creates a barrier disrupting the echolocation abilities of the orca,allowing the herring to escape predation. Something to consider if you ever find yourself being chased around the ocean by an orca…