2014 Whale Watching Wrap Up: Was it better than 2013?

30 Apr

“Cattle boat” crews and long-time cruise passengers I talked-story with this whale-watching season all said the same thing, just with different words: 2014 was “different” from last year, not “better”.

A head-to-head shoving match ensues between two males

A head-to-head shoving match ensues between two males as the action in a surface-active competition pod heats up. (Click on image to see a larger version.)
25 January 2013

Crews and passengers alike, we all saw whale behaviors we’d not seen in 2013… and in some cases, had never seen them before. So what follows is a sampling of photos from 2013 and 2014 that showcase what whale behaviors were most characteristic of the respective whale-watching seasons.

This young Humpie continued its fluke-slapping for nearly 20 minutes!  26 January 2014

This young Humpie continued its fluke-slapping for nearly 20 minutes! (Click on image to view a larger version.)  26 January 2014

 

•    No doubt about it: this year there were larger numbers of newborn calves in the Bay. More babies were breaching, fluke-slapping, and generally tear-assing around Ma’alaea Bay at top speed than in 2013.

Doing an acrobatic backward-facing breach, a newborn Humpback displays its ventral pleats (linear accordion-like grooves) that allow Humpies to expand the volume of their mouth cavities. 25 January 2014.

Doing an acrobatic backward-facing breach, a newborn Humpback displays its ventral pleats (linear accordion-like grooves) that allow Humpies to expand the volume of their mouth cavities. (Click on image to see a larger version.)  25 January 2014.

 

•    The 2013 was dominated by violent, surface-active competition pods — By contrast, 2014 seemed to have fewer and quieter comp-pods, as if most of the adult males couldn’t care less about showing off or chasing receptive females. 2014 was all about motherhood and looking after junior.

The members of this surface-active competition pod exhibited every kind of whale behavior in the book as it led my boat a merry chase for several miles. 28 February 2013

The members of this surface-active competition pod exhibited every kind of whale behavior in the book as it led my boat a merry chase for several miles. (Click on image to see a larger version.)
28 February 2013

 

•    Most of the pods I saw this year had fewer (and decidedly quieter) members, and usually consisted of a mother with a calf in tow followed by a single male(?) escort.

A pair of males tussle with one another to win the attention of a receptive female (rolled over onto her side at left, her pectoral fin and a fluke exposed at the surface) as a tour boat passes by the competition pod, careful to stay outside the 100-yard approach radius mandated by national law. 18 Jan 2014

A pair of males tussle with one another to win the attention of a receptive female (rolled over onto her side at left, her pectoral fin and a fluke exposed at the surface) as a tour boat passes by the competition pod, careful to stay outside the 100-yard approach radius mandated by national law. (Click on image to see a larger version.)  18 Jan 2014

 

•    Several times this year I saw newborn whales cruising ahead of their mothers at top speed with their mouths wide-open and showing off their baleen plates for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time.

A young Humpback whale calf racing ahead of its mother throws open its jaws to take a much-needed breath, exposing the row of baleen lining its upper jaw. (Click on image to see a larger version.) 9 March 2014

A young Humpback whale calf racing ahead of its mother throws open its jaws to take a much-needed breath, exposing the row of baleen lining its upper jaw. (Click on image to see a larger version.) 9 March 2014

 

•    On one of my 2014 cruises with Captain Joe, a mother escorting a very young and overly curious calf gave the INTRIGUE a strong nudge, as if to push the boat aside, seemingly as a warning to keep away from Junior.

A young Humpback whale calf being escorted by its very attentive mother. Moments earlier, Mom gave the 60-foot-long INTRIGUE at none-too-gentle nudge when she reckoned we had come a bit too close to Junior. The sensation was like that of striking a reef! 8 March 2014

A young Humpback whale calf being escorted by its very attentive mother. Moments earlier, Mom gave the 60-foot-long INTRIGUE at none-too-gentle nudge when she reckoned we had come a bit too close to Junior. The sensation was like that of striking a reef! 8 March 2014 (Click on image to view a larger version.)

 

•    This year the number of whale sightings never slacked off, continued strong all through March; whereas March in 2013 saw a noticeable decrease in sightings and active behavior by the first week of the month.

A rambunctious Humpback whale calf performs an energetic fluke slap. This individual continued repetitive fluke slaps for more than 15 minutes without pause as my boat slowly tracked it's slow, meandering progress. 9 March 2014

A rambunctious Humpback whale calf performs an energetic fluke slap. This individual continued repetitive fluke slaps for more than 15 minutes without pause as my boat slowly tracked it’s slow, meandering progress.  9 March 2014 (Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

•    Although weather conditions are NOT supposed to affect whale behavior, the 2014 season had almost no high-wind-and-rough-seas days, in contrast to the howling winds and stomach-churning high seas of the 2013 season, but there were several cruises in 2014 that ended in heavy rain squalls, wet cameras and soaked clothing. Fortunately, most days were as pleasant as the two pictured below…

A Humpback whale calf breaches, seemingly jumping for the sheer enjoyment. 19 Jan 2014

A Humpback whale calf breaches, seemingly jumping just for the sheer enjoyment.  19 Jan 2014         (Click on image to see a larger version.)

A Winter rainbow ends to 2014 whale-watching season on Ma'alaea Bay, south Maui.

A Winter rainbow ends to 2014 whale-watching season on Ma’alaea Bay, south Maui.

 

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One Response to “2014 Whale Watching Wrap Up: Was it better than 2013?”

  1. Lisa Rukstales 12 June 2014 at 4:55 PM #

    I enjoyed your Humpie pix. Thanks!

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