Whalewatching 2015: Part 10

1 Aug
Olowalu Canyon, leeward coast of Maui.

If the whales don’t cooperate, you can always admire the landward scenery. Olowalu Canyon, north of Ma’alaea Bay. (To see a larger version, click on the image.)

 14 March Cruise

After almost a week of continuous rain, unseasonably low temperatures, and overcast skies, the weather forecast predicted clear skies and light breezes today. The skies did, in fact, clear by sunrise; unfortunately, the “light” winds turned blustery and, combined with heavy seas, turned the bay and channel waters into a churning mass of whitecaps. The northeasterly wind continued to increase in strength all morning, creating waves that tossed the Ocean Explorer around so much I couldn’t pull a focus on anything except the now brilliantly-lit shoreline of the island, so I resigned myself to getting several good shots of Olowalu Canyon.

Flotilla of kayakers

Kayakers paddling into a stiff wind and heavy seas on Ma’alaea Bay. I counted more than 50 boats. (To see a larger version, click on the image.)

Before the Explorer could exit Ma’alaea Bay to head north for calmer coastal waters, we had to give way to an unusually large fleet of kayaks: I stopped counting at 50 insane paddlers, all being herded across our path by a few tense-looking lifeguards nervously buzzing about on jet skis.

Kayakers on Ma'alaea Bay

Kayakers out for a day on the bay in less-than-ideal boating weather are living proof that sometimes relaxing and having fun is hard work. (To see a larger version, click on the image.)

The intensely bright sunlight on the frothy-white wind-driven sea surface made it nearly impossible to pick out whales amongst the whitecaps.

Distant peduncle throw

A distant peduncle throw. (To view a larger version, click on the image.)


Mother and fluke-waving calf

Mother and fluke-waving calf, nearly obscured by the sun’s glare and wind-driven waves. (To see a larger version, click on the image.)

Added to the steadily deteriorating shooting conditions was the fact that the whales we DID manage to locate (and were also close enough to photograph) were not doing much of anything interesting… at least, not at the surface.

The subsurface turned out to be where it was all happening for the whales: when a crew member lowered a hydrophone into the relatively quiet waters off Olowalu, the sound it picked up was a concert hall of whale song. The range of the hydrophone is about a one-mile radius, so these bad boys (all “singers” are males) were really close, judging by the deafening cacophony of loud burbling pops, high-pitched whistles, squeaks, grunts, moaning howls, and burps blaring over the boat’s PA system. I was able to count at least six different singers, all very loud. Though all Humpback whales in the north Pacific population sing the same song, they don’t sing the same parts of that 20-minute-long aria in concert. It makes it tough to pick out identifiable bits of the musical score when everyone’s on a different page. I find it tough to believe that whale researchers are actually able to identify an entire 15-20-minute-long “song” in all that “noise”, but they somehow manage.

 Click HERE to listen to pre-recorded samples of  the songs of Ma’alaea Bay’s whales at Whalesong.net. There are downloadable MP3 files on this page of the website.

So… there was nothing interesting going on topside because the whales were all too busy singing 60 to 80 feet below the surface.

Needless to say, I got very few “keeper” shots today: of nearly 270 frames shot, I kept only 25, most of which were scenery shots… minus whales.

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