Whalewatching 2015: Part 5

31 Mar
whales and Olowalu Canyon - 15 Feb

A small surface-active competition pod of Humpback whales, with Maui’s Olowalu Canyon in the background. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

15 February Cruise

The day was warm and sunny, but a Kona storm that rolled in Saturday and lasted most of the day was followed today by high winds and a very strong westerly swell. It turned into another one of those cruises where the wind was whipping the seas into a frothy mess and I couldn’t tell a whale from a whitecap.

hard-charging comp pod - 15Feb

Three members of a fast-moving competition pod. All three surfaced at once; their blows were so loud and energetic I could hear the bellowing honk of their exhalations more than 100 yards away. (Click on image to see a larger version.)

We didn’t spot many whales during the first hour of the cruise, but that changed when Captain Joe located a nine-whale surface-active competition pod. Unfortunately, the whales were not doing much more than just chasing each other around and blowing a lot; the steam from their blows was picked up by the strong winds and blown back into the midst of the pod, obscuring the whales’ movements like a large opaque-white curtain.

rainbow blows comp pod #2 - 15 Feb

For this photograph, the angle of the sun was just right, adding a nice rainbow effect to the energetic blow of one member of a nine-whale competition pod. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

rainbow blows comp pod - 15 Feb

Another view of the “rainbow effect.” The wind was so strong, the steam from these whales’ exhalations was blown back toward the boat; it included a fair amount of whale snot. — Note to self: NEVER inhale whale snot. — (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

The whales really weren’t doing anything worth photographing; steamy blows were the only evidence that there were even whales present.

I included the following poor-quality photograph only because it depicts an interesting whale behavior with the very scientific-sounding name of “bubble-blowing” (note the large mass of bubbles at the surface in the lower-right quadrant of the image).

bubble-blowing 15Feb

Note the large dome-shaped upwelling of bubbles in the lower-right quadrant of the photo. This poor-quality photo is the only one I have that shows bubble-blowing at the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

“Bubble-blowing” is believed to be employed by the male participants in competition pods as a means of confusing and/or intimidating other males in the pod. Using his immense lung capacity, a male will exhale a large enough volume of air under water to generate a mass of bubbles to obscure a competing male’s vision, thus causing him to lose sight of the pursued female whale and throw him off the scent long enough for the bubble-blower to displace him in the chase. A similar (but more overtly cooperative) behavior, known as “bubble-netting” is used by feeding whales to control and consolidate prey into an easy-to-consume “bait ball.”

Whale researchers all staunchly maintain that whales are indifferent to surface conditions and don’t alter their behavior during either calm or stormy weather; however, it’s days like this one that put the lie to that theory! When they came to the surface at all, the whales stayed very low in the water and only rarely displayed any of the attention-getting behaviors like fluke slaps, breaches, and pectoral-fin waves.

fluke slash - 15 Feb

An agitated male participant in a large competition pod lashes out at a competitor with a “flukes slash”, delivering a heavy blow with a swift side-to-side slashing motion. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

With the heavy westerly swell obscuring the whales’ bodies in the deep troughs between waves, I was unable to see them, let alone shoot them! There were some opportunities to get a few close-up shots of flukes-up dives, but I have way too many better shots of this behavior already, so I only kept one or two this time.

flukes-up dive closeup - 15 Feb

Close-up of a flukes-up dive. I have far too many photos of this very common behavior, and so I only kept one or two from this cruise. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Days like today are a reminder that I am now a victim of my own success at getting that great “money shot”: eight years ago I would have saved almost all of the shots like those I took today; now I have so many better-quality photos of similar whale behaviors that I am spoiled for choices. Of the more than 1,000 total shots I took today, I only kept about 40, of which only a hand-full will be worth processing for my photo gallery website.

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