What a weekend! We started our sightings on Friday’s Breakfast with the Whales. Throughout the trip, we estimate that we saw spouts from 20 different Humpbacks, but we spent most of our time with two pods. The first was a Mom/very small calf/escort pod. Baby was interested in the boat, and eventually Mom must have decided we weren’t much of a threat because she let him come over to investigate. He spent considerable time looking at us before moving on. We then found a competitive pod of 7 whales. We got to see some breaching, tail lobs and peduncle throws from this group. Interestingly, the whale in the front of the pod for most of the time we were watching (which we assume is the female) had a lot of white markings on her body. She’d be very easy to identify if we see her again before the season is over. On Saturday’s Breakfast with the Whales we found a competitive pod of 7 whales (again) — this pod did not include our white-marked whale from Friday though — who were making a lot of noise on the surface, spouting and trumpeting and splashing. We saw 6 breaches just 40 feet from the boat. We also came across a couple of other pods who were surfacing and spouting. And on Sunday’s 10:00 Whale Watch, we found two different sub-orders of cetaceans — spinner dolphins and Humpbacks. We spent most of our time with the Humpbacks though, watching a quiet Mom/calf pod.
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: In 1985, a Humpback whale nicknamed “Humphrey” swam into San Francisco Bay and then up the Sacramento River towards Rio Vista, Ca. After a couple of weeks in fresh water, Humphrey started showing signs of physical stress, turning grey and listless. Researchers and scientists were at a loss on how to help him back to the Pacific Ocean, until an acoustician offered the recordings he had made of humpback whales feeding as a way to lure Humphrey down the river to the ocean. It worked — Humphrey followed a ship broadcasting the sounds down the river and as soon as he encountered salt water perked up and began doing longer deeper dives. On November 4th, 1985, at 4:36 pm, he swam past the Golden Gate Bridge and headed south. Humphrey showed up again in 1990…and I’ll tell you how researchers managed to redirect him again tomorrow.
We had some great times on the water on Wednesday. Our 8:00 Breakfast with the Whales and our 3:00 Whales and Cocktails both departed from Anaeho’omalu on Manu Iwa. The whales seemed happy to see us as both trips report lots of sightings and too many surface activities to keep track of. When we deployed the hydrophone on each of those trips, we heard some very loud and clear singing and vocalizations. But it was on our 10:00 Whale Watch from Kawaihae that we saw a complete turn-around from the day before. On this trip we saw 14 whales, 4 breaches, 2 pec slaps and one double pec slap from a calf (we love to see calves attempt this maneuver — they look so uncoordinated and cute while lying on their backs, flipping their pectoral fins around). We saw 2 pods of Cow/Calf/Escorts and one competitive pod consisting of 2 males and a female (at least that’s what our naturalist Jonathan was able to infer, based on the whales’ behaviors). We had one close encounter, and one mugging on that trip, and we deployed the hydrophone twice. The first time, we heard lots of whales, but the second time the sounds were incredibly resonant which means our singing whale was pretty close by.
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Humpback Whale Fact of the Day: Yesterday, I promised to tell you the rest of the Humphrey the Humpback Whale story. After successfully luring Humphrey to the ocean in 1985, researchers were a little surprised to see him back in San Francisco Bay again in 1990. This time, he got stuck on a mud flat south of Candlestick Park. Rescuers from the Marine Mammal Center and the US Coast Guard used a cargo net and a boat to free him. Then, he was guided out of the Bay to the ocean by a flotilla of boats behind him full of people banging on steel pipes (a Japanese fishing technique called “oikomi”). At the same time, those same attractive sounds of Humpbacks feeding that lured Humphrey out to sea in 1985 were broadcast from boats in front of Humphrey. It worked. Since then, Humphrey’s story has been memorialized in a number of children’s books, a movie and he even has a Facebook page!