Whalewatching 2015: Part 7

14 May
nice breach

Nice breach to start off a great day! (Click on image to see a larger version.)

22 February Cruise

Today’s cruise couldn’t have been more different than yesterday’s cruise, like night and day. The weather was perfect: warm, but with a cooling breeze from the northeast; nearly flat-calm seas without a single whitecap; full sun with no clouds overhead, and the “vog” was being dispersed by the Trade winds.

 

"rainbow blow"

If the sun and the whales cooperate, you get a “rainbow blow” like this one. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Alii Nui sailboat and blow

Excited whalewatchers crowd the rails of the Ali’i Nui as a surface-active competition pod comes in close. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Today I was aboard the Ocean Intrigue with Captain Joe at the wheel, so everything that was wrong with Ocean Explorer yesterday was just right today (i.e., a nice, rock-steady platform!).

 

Splash! Surprise head-lunge!

A large male Humpback crashes to the surface and executes a classic head-lunge to intimidate another member of the competition pod. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

two whales and a boat

Two members of a widely-disbursed competition pod briefly rest at the surface as the passengers aboard the Ali’i Nui look on. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

During the first few minutes of the cruise, we hooked-up with a fast-moving and unusually violent surface-active competition pod.

 

violent splashing competition pod

This competition pod’s surface activity was so violent I couldn’t see much of the whales causing the ruckus! (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A crowded field: Five members of a large competition pod

A crowded field: Five members of a large competition pod jostle to get closer to the female (the whale doing the “high-five” pec-wave). (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

small comp pod and sailboat

The intensity of activity in a typical competition pod ebbs and flows as participants tire or lose interest in the chase. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

head butting

A male Humpback engages in a bit of head-butting to discourage a competitor. Although such shoving matches appear to be extremely violent, it’s quite rare for competing males to come away from such encounters with more than a few scuff marks.  (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

We tracked the competition pod around the deeper waters of the bay for more than an hour and a half. There were about six to eight whales in the pod during the earliest stages of the chase, but the number quickly dropped to three or four as things got more energetic.

 

fluke-slap closeup

Closeup shot of one of the members of a competition pod doing some very energetic fluke-slapping. This behavior is thought to be a threat display or a means of expressing anger and frustration. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

scarred back and splash

One of the more spectacular threat displays is a fluke-slash: the whale violently whips its caudal peduncle (the rearmost-third of its body length) from side-to-side, churning up a lot of spray and no doubt making a good deal of noise under water. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

splash from fluke slap

The showy splash produced by a well-executed fluke slash (Click on the image to see a larger version).

head lunge intimidation

A well-placed head lunge from a large male Humpback has a lot of intimidation value. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

I got a lot of good shots (almost 1,900 for the day!) as Ocean Intrigue kept pace with the competition pod. Of those, I kept more than 300 shots, or about a 15-percent retention rate, which is typical for a very good day’s shooting.

 

nice flukes up dive

A closeup shot of a nice flukes-up dive. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Near the end of the cruise, as we were about to cross through the breakwater at the mouth of Ma’alaea Harbor, a mother, her newborn calf, and what turned out to be a third whale (probably a male “escort”) did a semi-synchronized triple breach, each whale beginning its breach a couple of seconds after the other; this made for several good long shots, as well as the following six-frame sequence of photographs of the entire event.

 

triple-breach sequence

A sequence of six contiguous photographs of a triple-breach. (Click on image to see a larger version.)

While the sequence of shots (above) only shows two whales at a time in each frame, the three whales were so widely spaced apart that I couldn’t set up the shots quickly enough by zooming out to catch all three in a single frame. In frame #1 the whale on the far left end of the group makes the initial leaping breach just as the next whale in line (to its right) is emerging at the surface to begin its breach. In frames #2, #3, and #4 the first whale and second whale complete their breaches, while in frame #5 a third, smaller whale breaks the surface to the right of the middle whale completing its breach. In frame #6 the third whale completes a very acrobatic full breach, leaping clear of the water. By the last frame in the sequence, it’s obvious that the third whale is the young calf of one of the other two whales.

At the end of a day’s cruise, I usually pack up my camera and bag my lenses a few hundred yards before the boat enters the harbor. But today the whales didn’t stop posing for the camera, so I was still shooting as we traversed the opening in the seawall at the mouth of the harbor.

 

tummy rubbing?

At first glance, I thought the whale nearest to the camera was a calf keeping pace with its mother. But after closely inspecting shots that followed (not shown here), it became clear that it was actually a male suitor getting close enough to the female to induce her to engage in some tummy rubbing. Her upraised pectoral fin may indicate she was amenable. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

heading for shallow water

Heading for shallow water. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

B and W pec wave

As if to say “goodbye”, a whale’s pectoral fin waves languidly as the Ocean Intrigue passes by, bound for the harbor and home. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

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One Response to “Whalewatching 2015: Part 7”

  1. Elizabeth Croonquist 6 June 2015 at 12:17 PM #

    Wow, Mike! You have some jaw-dropping shots here! It’s almost like they knew you were shooting with the camera and they enjoyed putting on a spectacular show for you! I’m really amazed at the size of these behemoth creatures.

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