Aloha and Mele Kalikimaka!
We had a great morning of whale watching on Wednesday. On our Wake Up with the Whales Cruise
on Manu Iwa, Captain Will reports being “in the right place at the right time”. Throughout the cruise, guests saw 10 or 12 whales, but the best action was right next to the boat. We saw 4 full breaches about 100 yards from us, pec slaps, tail lobs and even a few head lunges. These adult Humpbacks were very active…and we even had 2 of them surface 120 yards from us and parallel us as we cruised along.
On the 10:00 Whale Watch from Kawaihae, we watched a very relaxed whale surface just 100 yards from us, spout, and then dive. We didn’t see his flukes, so we figured he’d be right back up. The surprise was on us though, because it wasn’t until 9 minutes later that he surfaced again — this time on the other side of the boat…spouted, and disappeared yet again without showing his flukes! We also saw some breaching further down the coast, and a couple of other spouts.
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: Though they look inflexible, a Humpback’s flukes (the wide part of his tail) contain no bones…just cartilage. When the whale is born, the sides of his flukes are curled inwards so he can slide more easily out of mom’s birth canal.
We ran 4 Whale Watch Cruises on Tuesday, and to quote Captain Patrick (who was on Alala from Kawaihae all day), “there were LOTS of whales all around”. We saw multiple Mom/Baby/Escort pods, multiple unescorted Mom/Baby pods, multiple competitive pods, and even a couple of lone whales. On days like Tuesday, it’s difficult to keep accurate counts of the number of surface displays we saw, so instead of reporting them, we’ll just have to say we saw a little of everything throughout the day, including breaches, tail lobs, head lunges, and peduncle throws. When the whales approached us, we were able to see some interesting scarring on some of their bodies, and when we got lucky enough to see close-up fluke dives, we could actually see the barnacles living on the edges of the whales tails. We did deploy our onboard hydrophones throughout the day, and we got to listen in to all the singing and vocalizations going on underwater too.
Captain Claire’s Humpback Fact of the Day: The barnacles called “Coronula diadema” live only on Humpback Whales, and they seem to prefer to live on areas of the whale where the water flow is consistent (chin and fins). Though researchers aren’t sure how the barnacle can even find a whale to live on, there is some speculation that because the barnacles are spawning during the winter in Hawaii, the whales here are swimming in “barnacle larvae soup”. When a whale swims by, those “baby” barnacles chemically sense it, and hop on where ever they can. They use their antennae as “feet’ and walk around the whale till they find a suitable spot (which can take quite a while… if the barnacle were the size of a person, the whale would be 20 miles long). Once they find a spot they like, they flip over and produce tube-shaped cavities in their shells that actually draw in prongs of growing whale skin, holding their position on the whale for life.
If you read the Whale Report I sent out on Thursday morning, it may have been a little confusing since I somehow got a day ahead of myself, and I was really reporting on Wednesday’s Whale Watches…sorry about that, and here’s the recap for the real Thursday.
Thursday’s Whale Watches started out with pretty much “every activity you could see from Humpbacks” according to our naturalist Mike. We saw tail lobs, peduncle throws, pec slaps, head lunges and even a few breaches. We also had two close encounters with different pods of Mom/Baby who swam by to check us out. On the 10:00 Whale Watch, we saw over 30 different Humpbacks, but the highlights were definitely the competitive pods we found – especially the second one. The whale in front of this group (which according to researchers, is almost always the female) did 6 full breaches expressing her excitement (or anxiety, or irritation, or health…not sure which). We also saw multiple peduncle throws, tail lobs and pec slaps from the other whales in this pod. And on the Whales and Cocktails cruise, we saw lots of breaches and pec slaps in the distance, but towards the end of the cruise we found a Mom/Baby/Escort pod with a very active calf. Baby breached repetitively, and the escort performed several peduncle throws right near the boat.
Mahalo, and enjoy your weekend! I really will send out the next report on Monday,
Captain Claire’s Humpback Whale Fact of the Day: Biopsy samples taken from South Pacific Humpbacks show a ratio of 2.4 males for every female on the breeding grounds. A similar ratio has been observed in Hawaii. This suggests either 1). Female Humpbacks can afford to be choosy with their mating partners…or 2). Female Humpbacks are overwhelmed by aggressive males and bullied into mating.
Highlights from Tuesday’s day of whale watching included the 5 large but bashful whales we saw on our 10:00 Whale Watch. Our guests saw lots of diving, and lots of flukes. We’re always happy when we can see the flukes, and we do try to photograph them…see today’s Humpback Fact of the Day for the reason why. On the Whales and Cocktails Cruise, guests saw 15 different whales. When we first left the Bay, we saw a pod of two that seemed pretty active…and then another pod of two. So we headed towards that first, more active pod, but wouldn’t you know it?? As soon as we got there, they got quiet, but the other pod suddenly became more active…so we decided to turn around and head back towards them. Of course, as we got closer, they quieted down but the first pod got active again…so we decided to turn around again, (whale ping-pong) and headed back towards them. This time they stayed active! We saw about 25 tail slaps from the two of them, and a couple of times they got within 100 yards of the boat (remember, we need to maintain a 100 yard distance, but it’s ok for the whales to approach us as long as we aren’t actively pursuing them). We also saw 3 breaches from other whales in the distance. At the end of this trip, we saw another competitive pod…but they were out of our range at that point and we had to go home.
Captain Claire’s Humpback Whale Fact of the Day: One of the best ways whale watchers have to identify individual Humpbacks is by the unique markings on the ventral (underside) of their flukes (tails). Currently, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory based in Seattle maintains a data base containing more than 30,000 photos of the North Pacific Humpbacks flukes for identification purposes, but other researchers, including those involved in the 3 season SPLASH (Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks) project have also used these patterns to identify who’s who in the whale world and estimate population levels.
On Wednesday, we ran two exclusive charters on Alala out of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. On the first trip, we encountered a pod of about 20 Spinners just outside of Crystal Cove (past the Pioneer building near Kawaihae Harbor) at about 9:30. At 10:30, we saw the same pod in the same location, but now there were about 50 dolphins! On our second trip, we went back to the same location, and saw what was probably the original pod…but they had been joined by even more dolphins, so we saw about 70 animals in all! We didn’t see any small calves in the group, but we did see several sub-adults. And the Dolphins did come to the boat to bow surf — they performed only a few spins and tail lobs.
Dolphin Fact of the Day. Researchers believe that Spinner Dolphins perform a large percentage of their aerial behaviors because it’s “their job”. It’s been observed that the frequency of leaps and spins increases right around the time the dolphins are waking up and heading out to sea in the early evening. Perhaps the dolphins can echo locate the bubble plumes created when they land from a spin more easily than they can echo locate each other — which means that spinning might be a great way to keep track of the rest of the pod. Of course, a lot of the spins may be performed for the same reasons that Humpback Whales breach….to knock off parasites, or just because it’s fun!
Guests aboard Thursday’s boats report good sightings, but the highlight of the day happened during the 10:00 Whale Watch cruise on Alala out of Kawaihae Harbor. Not only did guests see 7 different Humpbacks multiple times, but our naturalist for that trip, Jonathan, reports seeing 7 breaches, 3 tail lobs, and 2 peduncle throws! For those of you wondering, the difference between a tail lob and a peduncle throw is really one of degree. A “tail lob” describes the behavior of the whale slamming his or her 15 foot wide flukes against the surface of the ocean with a resounding splash. A “peduncle throw” describes the whale throwing the entire back half of his or her body out of the water and landing with an even bigger splash! When Captain Shane deployed the hydrophone on the 10:00 Whale Watch, guests heard singing — they said it wasn’t extremely loud, but it was described as being quite “clear”.
Join Ocean Sports for a Whale Watching Adventure on any of our daily Whale Watch cruises, Black Sand Snorkel Sails of Sunset Sails. For more information, and to reserve your adventure, call 886-6666 ext 103 or visit www.hawaiioceansports.com
Humpback Whale 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…still, try this yourself next time you’re in the water. We’re betting you won’t get very far!
Mahalo, and have a Great Weekend!