The Whales Are Back!

10 Dec

After six long months of staring at the empty horizon of Ma’alaea Bay, the humpies are back!

Breaching Humpback whale, Ma'alaea Bay, Maui -- 21 Jan 2010

First breach of the new migration!  (To see a larger version, click on the image.)

Usually, the first sightings of Humpback whales in Maui’s coastal waters occur in late September or early October, but I don’t buy my “cattle boat” tickets until the first week of December, and I usually don’t go out until the last weekend of December. My fellow whale-watchers all book their trips much earlier, but I’ve found that the really large and violent (and thus more photogenic) competition pods (known as “comp-pods” by whale cognoscenti) don’t form up for a month or two.

28 Feb  2013 - Four-whale comp pod

Four whales in a large 10-whale “comp pod” — 28 February 2013. (To see a larger version, click on the image.)

I had no tangible proof to support this notion, so this year I did a statistical analysis of seven years’ worth of the best whale photos on my gallery website. I restricted the sample criteria to just the “best” shots of comp-pods. Granted, “best” is a pretty subjective criteria… but it’s my bleedin’ stats analysis, so shut up a little!

Breaching Humpback Whale

Ma’alaea Bay, Maui — 13 February 2011
(To view larger version, click on image.)

I came up with more than 470 decent pics. After calculating the sample distribution by date, I got a nice fat bell curve: more than 80 percent of the best shots were clustered firmly within January and February, with about eight percent trailing off into March and early-early April. November and December split a small handful (one percent?) between them. No surprises there.

“Wait a minute,” I said to myself: “You buy 20 trips a season, and never book passage on the boat after the third weekend of March, and you’ve only been out as early as November one or two times, so of COURSE your bell curve is constrained by the 16-plus trips you take in January and February.” So I’m thinking maybe my stats aren’t really representative of a true “peak” in whale activity during those two months.

5 January 2014

A member of a small competition pod of Humpback whales thrusts its massive head clear out of the water in an aggressive threat display known as a “head lunge” — 5 January 2014
(To see a larger version, click on the image.)

But… all of the feedback I’ve received over the years from boat captains and crew members (all of whom go out three or four times each day, October through May) seems to point to January and February as the months when they see the most whales and the largest and most active comp-pods. Taking that anecdotal evidence into account, my numbers are spot-on, and I’m a statistics genius, sure enough!

So… for all those folks looking to thaw-out after the Holidays and see some whales, come to Maui in January and stay through February. One caveat, though: it’s WINTER here, too, so be prepared for one or two days with rain and high seas. I got a good soaking on two of my twenty boat trips last winter, but the other 18 were wonderful. I hope all of yours will be wonderful, too. Come sail away, malahini. Aloha, me ka pumehana!

February sunset over Ma'alaea Bay.

February sunset over Ma’alaea Bay.


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