Whalewatching 2015: A Review

7 Aug
Breach

First good breach of the season! 4 January (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

So… with the end of my 2015 whale-watching season four months in the past and the start of the 2016 season more than five months in the future, it’s time to revisit what I think are my best, most memorable photographs of the Humpback whales who came to visit Maui’s Ma’alaea Bay in 2015.

Breach sequence longshot 17 Jan 2015

Anatomy of a breach: Sequential shots of a breaching adult. 17 January 2015.
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Sequential shots of a triple breach - 21 Feb 2015

Two adults and a calf perform a triple breach. 21 February (Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

Breach - McGregor Light

A young adult breaching with McGregor Point light in the background. 17 January 2015
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Calf breach - 17 March 2015

Calf breaching; Pu’u Olai cinder cone in the hazy background. 17 March
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Peduncle throw 1-21 Feb

Peduncle throw. 21 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

fluke slash - 15 Feb

An obviously agitated whale lashes out with a fluke slash. 15 February
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Flukeslap with the windmills of the West Maui Mountains in the background. 17 March 2015

Fluke-slap with the wind turbines on Kaheawa Ridge of the West Maui Mountains in the background.
17 March (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

splash from fluke slap - 22 Feb

The showy splash produced by a well-executed fluke slash. 22 February
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Leviathon - 7 March

Leviathan – 7 March (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

spinner_dolphins 4jan2015

A pair of Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) rocket past the boat, breaking the surface just in front of the bow. 4 Jan 2015 (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Turquoise in the water - 31 Jan 2015

Turquoise in the water! As she prepares to swim under my boat to escape the attentions of male whales, this whale displays the white coloration (appears blue-green just under water) patterns on the dorsal (upper) aspect of her pectoral fins. 31 January
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

pec fin with barnacles close-up

Close-up shot of barnacles encrusting a whale’s pectoral fin, lower jaw plate (to the right of the fin), and the protruding chin plate (far right). 17 January (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Five blows - 10 January 2015

The five members of this competition pod formed a neat little conga-line trailing behind the female (at the far right end of the conga line). This was the most orderly competition pod I’ve seen in more than 10 years of whale watching! 10 January  (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

violent splashing comp pod - 22 Feb

This competition pod’s surface activity was so violent I couldn’t see much of the whales causing the ruckus!  22 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

cow rollover with calf - 22 Feb

A mother and new calf out for a swim abound the bay. 22 February
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

mom rolled onto back and calf - 31 Jan

Mother and calf doing a very relaxed swim around the bay: Mom has rolled over onto her back, but still manages to set a good pace for junior. 31 January (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Despite heavy weather, a young Humpback whale manages a few "pec-waves."

Despite heavy weather, a young Humpback whale manages a few “pec-waves.” 21 February 
(Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

double flukes-up dive IMG_0564

A pair of Humpback whales perform a double flukes-up dive. 17 January
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

flukes-up dive 2 - 7 March

A graceful flukes-up dive. 7 March (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Closeup of a surprise head-lunge. 31 January 2015

Closeup of a surprise head-thrust. 31 January (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

head thrust - 17 March

A violent head thrust. 17 March (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

2 males head lunges - 8 Feb

Two large males in a competition pod collide in mutual head-thrusts. 8 February
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

head thrust and blow - 8 Feb

Head thrust and a blow: This male steam-rollers a competitor by taking in a large mouthful of water (adding a couple of toms more mass to his blow) and slamming into the other whale, exhaling steam and water from mouth and blowhole. 8 February  (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

head butting - 22 Feb

One male “t-bones” a competitor in a competition pod, slamming into his adversary at speed. 22 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

pec wave with ventral pleats

Nice shot of a pectoral-fin wave showing barnacles at the tip and leading edge and the linear ventral pleats at the base of the fin. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Spyhop: "Barnacle Bill"

As this mature male surfaces during a brief “spy hop”, he displays his lower jaw covered with the numerous chalky-white rings left behind by encrusting barnacles scraped off or knocked off long ago. I’ve never seen such a large number of “barnacle rings” on a whale.
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

skin - 1 march prop scars 2

A mature adult whale displays four deep parallel gashes on its upper left-side flanks, probably caused by a boat’s propeller blades during a whale strike. 1 March
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

orca-raking marks 4 January

The numerous parallel scratches seen on the ventral (lower) surface of this whale’s left pectoral fin raking marks caused by an orca (killer whale) seizing the fin in its tooth-filled jaws. 4 January
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

damaged_caudal-peduncle - flukes-up 1 March

The prominent notch in this whale’s distal caudal peduncle (i.e., near the end of the tail) and the matching scar (white) on the ventral aspect of the peduncle may have resulted from abrasion of the flesh resulting from entanglement with netting gear. 1 March
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

This "double head lunge" was so cautious and low-key that it looked more like the two whales were sort of looking over the competition without wishing to get involved in a turf battle. It was just too nice a day for it, I guess!

This “double head lunge” was so cautious and low-key that it looked more like the two whales were politely checking-out one another without wishing to get involved in a violent turf battle. It was just too nice a day for it, I guess!  7 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

pecs up rolled over - 28 Feb

A mature Humpback rolled completely onto its back performs a leisurely double pectoral-fin wave. Its ventral pleats are clearly visible. 8 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

cow with calf on her tummy 1 - 28 Feb

A female rolled over onto her left side doing a slow “pec wave”; her calf appears to be draped over her belly. See the next photo for what happened next. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

cow and calf on her tummy 2 - 28 Feb

The calf appears to leap off its mother’s belly as she right herself in the water. 28 February
(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

whale embracing whale - courting behavior - 7 March

Whale embracing whale: Was this an example of courting behavior? 7 March
(Click on image to see larger version.)

 

Ocean Voyager and comp pod 2 - 8 Feb

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Voyager monitoring the antics of a very energetic surface-active competition pod. 8 February (Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

Alii Nui sailboat and blow

Excited whale watchers crowd the rails of the Ali’i Nui as a surface-active competition pod comes in close. 22 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Afterthoughts

After the 14 March cruise (see previous blog post), I went out on two more whale-watching cruises in hopes of seeing different and unusual behavior, but although I shot several thousand frames on both days, they were pretty much the same as shots that were qualitatively better and taken earlier in the season.  I could blame my mediocre results on this being a strong El Niño year (see The Southern Oscillation” in Wikipedia) that caused the whales to be less cooperative. However, the disappointing March cruises just reinforced what I’ve always found to be true about whale watching in my part of the island: January and February are the best months for photographing Ma’alaea Bay’s Humpback whales. Next season I’ll skip cruising in December and March completely and double-up on my 20-plus cruises, going out two to three times a week in January and February.

I guess nature photographers, like football fanatics, are unrepentant optimists: with us there’s always “next season”.

TMother (foreground) and calf doing “roundouts”, a commonly seen shallow surface-dive behavior.  7 February

Mother and calf doing “round-outs”, a shallow surface-dive behavior. Absolutely perfect conditions for a day of “Walkies with Junior.” 7 February (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

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One Response to “Whalewatching 2015: A Review”

  1. Elizabeth Croonquist 7 August 2015 at 4:16 AM #

    Mike, I could sit and look at this brilliant collection of whale photos all day! This past season, you’ve done a masterful job of capturing these gentle giants on your camera. Thank you for sharing!

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