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Whale Watching 2016: Part 13

23 Jun
boat and competition pod

The passengers of the SeaEscape III watch at a safe distance as two large Humpback males in a competition pod violently thrash each other at the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

23 February 2016 Cruise

Despite the Ocean Voyager’s initial encounter with a very energetic competition pod (see above photo), the most interesting part of this day’s cruise was the antics of one particularly active Humpback whale calf. But first things first…

The participants of the aforementioned competition pod became so violent and spread out at the surface, the SeaEscape III‘s pilot decided to steer clear of them lest their brawling smash into and swamp the tiny boat.

comp pod on the move

Three members of a fast-moving and violent competition pod. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

When they realized the female they were fighting over had left the scene, the males of the competition pod abruptly broke off their struggles with one another and gave chase to the fleeing object of their affections.

comp pod on the move-2

After a short break in the action, the competition pod quickly moved on. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Prior to boarding the Ocean Odyssey, I took the following shots of what I assumed was a solitary mature Humpback whale performing a long series of noisy and very spectacular fluke slaps in the near-shore shallows. It’s unusual for solitary whales to exhibit this behavior so close to shore (note the boulders of the harbor breakwater in the foreground), so I broke out the 300 mm zoom lens and began snapping away.

flukeslap from shore-1 300mm

Fluke-slapping whale taken from shore (without the 300 mm lens). (Click on the image to see a larger version.) 

 

flukeslap from shore-2 300mm

Fluke-slapping whale taken from shore (using the 300 mm lens). (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

After blasting through about 30 shots and just as I was losing interest in this whale’s antics, a small whale’s head broke the surface a short distance to its left. So this was a mother-calf pair, and it appeared that Mom was teaching her offspring the fine art of fluke-slapping.

flukeslap from shore-4 300mm

Mother and calf (far left of photo) pair. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

About a half-hour into the cruise, we came upon another mother-and-calf pair making their way slowly out into the channel between Ma’alaea Bay and Molokini Island. Junior was performing a continuous series of splashy fluke slaps while Mom cruised slowly nearby, staying very close to her newborn the entire time we spent with this pair. Female Humpback whales with newborns in tow are very protective and stick close to their offspring throughout the first year of their lives. This mother-child relationship is the only close bond that the otherwise purposely solitary Humpbacks form during their lives. After it is weened (usually after the return to Hawaiian waters), the female abandons the yearling to fend for itself.

calf flukeslap mom & Molokini

Humpback calf doing fluke slaps as Mom cruises slowly alongside. Molokini Island looms in the hazy background. (Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

calf flukeslap and mom-4

Nice close-up shot of the calf’s tail stock (known as the “peduncle”) as it emerges from the water in preparation for yet another loud slap. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

calf flukeslap and mom-5

Close-up of the calf’s fluke slap; Mom’s dorsal fin is just visible to the right. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

calf flukeslap and mom-3

Oblivious to the presence of the Ocean Odyssey, the calf happily flails away at the surface while its ever-protective mother maneuvers to place herself between the boat and her youngster. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Just when I thought this playful newborn couldn’t get any cuter, it abruptly switched to performing a long series of awkward (but very energetic) partial breaches. During the first weeks of life, most newborn calves lack the strength to jump completely out of the water (a “full” breach). It is believed that the youngsters “practice” this behavior to strengthen their peduncle muscles in preparation for the long journey with Mom back to the Alaskan feeding grounds. To be honest, I believe they do it just because it’s so damned fun!

calf partial breach-2

Calf practicing breaching, but it manages to get only half-way out of the water. (Click on the image to seed a larger version.)

 

calf partial breach-4

Keep practicing, little guy! You’ll get better with time. (Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

mom with calf eye visible

Finally, the calf got bored with breaching and decided to do a little “spy hopping”, a reconnoitering behavior wherein the whale slowly rises to the surface in a near-vertical position so that its eyes barely break the surface; it then holds that position for several seconds, protruding one eye (the concentric fleshy wrinkles surrounding the eye are just visible above the mother’s massive back) as if “squinting” to get a better view of its surroundings. A whale’s visual acuity is quite good both at and below the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Whalewatching 2016: Part 12

25 Apr
Calf flukes-up dive.

Nice close-up shot of a Humpback calf’s flukes-up dive. Judging by the amount of time this calf stayed submerged after this dive, it’s probably several weeks old and ready to follow its mother to the Alaskan feeding grounds. 16 February 2016 (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

16 and 19 February 2016 Cruises

16 February Cruise

This day’s conditions were more typical of our February weather than those of the last few weeks: strong gusting southwesterly winds and heavy seas with whitecaps. This makes it difficult to spot whales; I had to be almost be on top of a whale in order to see it, let alone photograph it!

The following shots of a weeks-old calf were the most interesting and easiest to photograph.

This calf performed several energetic breaches

This calf performed several energetic breaches for about 15 minutes as its mother rested placidly at the surface nearby (light-blue patch of disturbed water at far left). (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Young Humpback calves like this one usually aren't able to do full breaches (i.e., leap completely out of the water) because the peduncle muscles of the tail stock are not yet strong enough.

Young Humpback calves like this one usually aren’t able to do full breaches (i.e., leap completely out of the water) because the peduncle muscles of the tail stock are not yet strong enough. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

The calf performs a very noisy reverse breach, landing on its back.

The calf performs a very noisy reverse breach, landing on its back. The windblown spray is a small mouthful of water being forcefully ejected from its mouth as it does a “jaw clap”, an aggressive behavior more often displayed by adult whales in competition pods. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

————————————————

19 February Cruise

Excellent weather: high winds the night before had cleaned out the vog haze, so visibility was great; moderate trade winds cooled what would have been a cloudless warm day; the surface, while not glass-smooth, was calm enough to spot blows and breaches miles distant.

A large male Humpback headed directly for the boat.

A large male Humpback headed directly for the boat does an impressive (and VERY intimidating) round-out dive at the last second. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Sailboat and whale.

The crew of this sailboat took advantage of the excellent surface conditions and their ideal position to observe at close range a mother and calf lazing at the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

There were a LOT of surface-active competition pods inside the bay; most pods had four or more participants. Almost immediately the captain of the Ocean Odyssey found one just outside the harbor breakwater.

comp pod action

The male participants in this competition pod really churned up the waters as they heaved about and shoved one another. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Head lunge looking head-on

A head lunge viewed head-on! the barnacles encrusting the chin plate of this large male Humpback are clearly visible as it lifts its massive head above the surface and slams it down hard with a loud splash. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

The male participants of this competition pod were displaying a lot of very aggressive behavior: head butting and head lunges, inflated head lunges, jaw-clapping and tail cocking.

inflated head lunge & jaw clap in comp pod

A male Humpback performs an aggressive inflated head lunge and caps it off with some jaw-clapping (note the parted lips of the whale on the right). (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A member of the competition pods swims close enough to the boat its flukes brushed the hull.

A member of the competition pods swims close enough to the boat its flukes brushed the hull. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

flukes-up closeup

Mobbing the boat! (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

The members of one of the competition pods came so close (called “mobbing the boat”) that the exhalations of the competitors straining to keep up with the female and her primary escort were loud enough one could almost imagine they were on the boat itself.

One whale popped up next to the boat just below where I was standing on the bridge; it happened so fast and at such close range (less than 2 meters) that I had no time to dial back the focus on my lens, but did manage after a second or so to refocus and catch the entirety of whale’s body in my viewfinder.

surprise! mugging the boat

This member of the competition pod very suddenly popped up on the starboard side of the boat after swimming between the twin hulls of the Ocean Odyssey. It was close enough I could hear its labored exhalation as it swam by, almost close enough to reach out and touch! (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Mobbing the boat.

I was just able to re-focus my lens to catch the full length of this whale as it emerged after swimming under the boat. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Pectoral fins' wingspan indicated with arrows

As this whale swims away from the boat, its two pectoral fins (the tips indicated by yellow arrows) are stretched out fully as it pulls a forward stroke. Each fin (the turquoise-blue patches visible just below the surface) is about 15 feet long, so its total “wing span” (about forty feet for this individual) is almost as wide as the whale is long (more than 45 feet).

 

older calf breaching

A young adult whale (or perhaps an older calf) performs a half-breach,;the L-shaped groove of it closed lips is clearly visible. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A Humpback calf moves close to the boat

A Humpback calf moves close to the boat, perhaps a bit curious about the engine noise. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Although most of the body of a Humpback whale belonging to the north Pacific population is black, the ventral aspect (i.e., the bottom surface) of its flukes and pectoral fins display large patches of bright-white coloration. A treat for whale photographers is to capture these patches of color when displayed by the whale near the surface, where they appear as bright turquoise-blue flashes.

The turquoise "wow factor".

The turquoise “wow factor”. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A mature adult Humpback displays a bit of "turquoise fin flash" as it surfaces and blows.

A mature adult Humpback displays a bit of “turquoise fin flash” as it surfaces and blows. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Whalewatching 2016: Part 7

13 Mar
A female Humpback whale cruises the waters of waters of Ma'alaea Bay in the company of her primary male escort.

A female Humpback whale cruises the waters of Ma’alaea Bay in the company of her primary male escort. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

23 January Cruise

Although this cruise didn’t include any of the violent behavior usually associated with surface-active competition pods or spectacular breaching, the weather and surface conditions were ideal for photography, and there were a few nice (if somewhat less spectacular) surprises.

A pair of whales performs a double flukes-up dive.

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

 

Nice closeup shot of the flukes-up dive of a mature whale.

Nice closeup shot of the flukes-up dive of a mature whale. Note the neat rows of barnacles encrusting the whale’s flukes. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A large female cruising at the surface sports a very distinctive dorsal fin with a pronounced hook at its tip.

A large female cruising at the surface sports a very distinctive dorsal fin with a pronounced hook at its tip. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Closeup shot from a different angle of the female with the hooked dorsal fin.

Closeup shot from a different angle of the female with the hooked dorsal fin. Such a distinctive feature, when paired with the unique coloration pattern of the ventral aspect of the flukes, serves as a strong identifier of an individual whale. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

This closeup shot of a whale's flukes reveal the distinctive wear patterns on the flukes' leading edges.

This closeup shot of a whale’s flukes reveal the distinctive wear patterns on the flukes’ leading edges. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Perhaps curious about the engine noise of the boat, a young Humpback calf swims close to to the Voyager.

Perhaps curious about the engine noise of the boat, a young Humpback calf swims close to the Ocean Voyager. Note the bright bluish-white of its short pectoral fins just below the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

As the young calf swims past the Voyager to its starboard side, it lifts its head a bit above the surface to get a better look at the boat and its passengers crowding along its rails to get a better look at the newborn.

As the young calf swims past the Ocean Voyager on its starboard side, it lifts its head a bit above the surface to get a better look at the boat and its passengers crowding along its rails to get a better look at the newborn. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Nice closeup of a mature Humpback performing a round-out dive as it speeds past the Odyssey.

Nice closeup of a mature Humpback performing a round-out dive as it speeds past the Ocean Voyager. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Whalewatching 2016: Part 6

22 Feb
Finishing a breach

Finishing a breach. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

19 January Cruise

The weather and the whales cooperated beautifully! There were so many surface-active pods and such a wide variety of behaviors being displayed that I ended up with more than 3,500 shots to sort through, about half of which were keepers! With so many good shots to choose from, I had a tough time limiting the pics for this blog post to a reasonable number. My apologies for including so many photos this time, but I think these are worth sharing.

A pair of whales perform perfectly synchronized flukes-up dives. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

An out-of-sync double flukes-up dive.

An out-of-sync double flukes-up dive. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A participant in an energetic competition pod does an aggressive head lunge as it exhales at the surface.

A participant in an energetic competition pod does an aggressive head lunge as it exhales at the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A solitary resting at the surface ("logging") with the cinder cone of Pu'u Olai on the distant horizon.

A solitary whale resting at the surface (“logging”) with the cinder cone of Pu’u Olai on the distant horizon. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A young adult whale performs a graceful flukes-up dive with Molokini Crater on the horizon.

A young adult whale performs a graceful flukes-up dive with Molokini Crater on the horizon. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Passengers aboard the Ali'i Nui watch a solitary whale doing a flukes-up dive nearby.

Passengers aboard the Ali’i Nui watch a solitary whale doing a flukes-up dive nearby. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Peduncle throw sequence

Sequence of shots of a whale performing a peduncle throw.

 

In pursuit: a male participant in a small competition pod struggles to keep up with the less-than-receptive object of his desire, a female Humpback out in front of the pod.

In pursuit: a male participant in a small competition pod struggles to keep up with the less-than-receptive object of his desire, a female Humpback out in front of the pod. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Nice shot of the flukes of a Humpback whale as it slips beneath the surface. The scallop-shaped trailing edge of a whale's flukes are unique to each whale.

Nice shot of the flukes of a Humpback whale as it slips beneath the surface. The scallop-shaped trailing edge of a whale’s flukes are unique to each whale. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A closeup shot of a peduncle throw. This noisy behavior is usually indicative of extreme aggression or irritation.

A closeup shot of a peduncle throw. This violent and very noisy behavior is usually indicative of extreme aggression or irritation. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

I just love the way the water streams off of a whale's flukes as it does a flukes-up dive!

I just love the way the water streams off of a whale’s flukes as it does a flukes-up dive! (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

It's always time for a breach

There’s always time for a breach, even in the midst of the serious business of a competition pod. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

fluke-slap

Nothing like a hearty fluke-slap to work off those feelings of anger and frustration! (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A female Humpback rolled over onto her back waves both her 15-foot-long pectoral fins, signalling that she's in the mood for love.

A female Humpback rolled over onto her back waves both her 15-foot-long pectoral fins, probably signalling to nearby males that she’s “in the mood”. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

After signalling that she's "in the mood" by rolling over onto her back and waving her immense pectoral fins, an obliging male promptly makes the scene. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

After signalling that she’s “in the mood” by rolling over onto her back and waving her immense pectoral fins, an obliging male promptly makes the scene. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Every whale's pectoral fins, just like their flukes, are unique...

Every whale’s pectoral fins, just like their flukes, are unique…

 

...and not all of them are slender and graceful, as this individual's fin shows there's been some hard usage. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

…and not all of them are slender and graceful, as this individual’s fin shows; the barnacles, scuff marks and notches indicate that it’s seen some hard usage. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Was this an invitation for a little tummy-rub on the part of the female rolled onto her back?

Was this an invitation for a little tummy-rub on the part of the female rolled onto her back? (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Invitation accepted! Note the second whale's head between the other's outstretched pectoral fins.

Invitation accepted! Note the second whale’s head between the other’s outstretched pectoral fins. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

One member of a competition pod that mobbed the boat exposes its well-scarred back as it glides by.

One member of a competition pod that mobbed the boat exposes its well-scarred back as it glides by. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

This whale demonstrates the wonderful flexibility of the Humpback whale's flukes; no surprise, given there's no bones in that part of its anatomy, just skin, muscle and blubber.

This whale demonstrates the wonderful flexibility of the Humpback whale’s flukes; no surprise, given there’s no bones in that part of its anatomy, just skin, muscle and blubber. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Nice closeup of a whale's flukes as it prepares for a deep flukes-up dive.

Nice closeup of a whale’s flukes as it prepares for a deep flukes-up dive. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

And so it's time to wave "bye-bye" until the next cruise. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

And so it’s time to wave “bye-bye” until the next cruise. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Whalewatching 2016: Part 5

7 Feb

surprise breach - frame 2

16 January Cruise

There was a great deal of surface activity (typical for mid-January) during this morning’s cruise,   most of which consisted of quieter, less-interesting behaviors like blowing, resting at the surface, and male and female pairs aimlessly wandering about the bay. However, two individual whales did put on two separate performances for the passengers and crew of the Voyager.

Almost immediately after Voyager cleared the Ma’alaea Harbor breakwater, an immature adult Humpback unexpectedly breached just off the port bow (see the “Super-Breach Surprise in Ma’alaea Bay” blog post).

breach sequence-16Jan2016

The first indication that a whale was breaching less than 100 yards from Voyager was the collective shout of surprise of the passengers and crew. By the time I shot the first of my ten frames of this jump, the whale was almost halfway into its breach. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Every camera on board (including mine) had been trained on a lazy pair of whales “logging” about 200 yards off our 3 o’clock position when the whale jumped in front of the boat, but I was able to wheel around in time to catch the whale about half way through the arch of its trajectory. Fortunately the camera was set on “Burst” mode and all I had to do was pull a focus and blast away.

breach sequence - frame 2 -16Jan2016

At this point in the breach, the whale’s angle of trajectory is nearly flat and almost all of its 40,000 tons is out of the water. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

breach sequence - frame 3 - 16Jan2016

I really like this shot because I caught the whale just as its entire body broke the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

I got off 10 quick frames before the young acrobat executed an immense splashdown that filled most of my viewfinder’s field with an immense cloud of white froth and spray.

breach sequence - frame 5 - 16Jan2016

As the whale’s body slammed into the surface, it was completely enveloped in a white cloud of spray and froth half again as large as itself. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

After this unlooked-for spectacle, the next half hour of the cruise was a bit of a letdown. I spotted a four-whale competition pod more than a half-mile distant and was marginally successful pulling a good enough focus to get the following shot.

distant competition pod-16Jan2016

At more than a half-mile out, I had to do a good bit of Photoshop fiddling to pull this one out of the voggy haze. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A bit later, a solitary whale (perhaps a yearling newly weaned from its mother) made a brief appearance, coming to within 100 yards of the boat, pausing just long enough for me to get these two shots of its barnacle-encrusted flukes.

barnacles on flukes-16Jan2016

A small colony of barnacles clings precariously to the tip of a young adult whale’s left fluke. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

flukes up w/barnacles-16Jan2016

As this whale performed a “goodbye” flukes-up dive, the two colonies of barnacles on the tips of its flukes were visible, clearly hanging on for dear life. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Just as Voyager’s captain began pulling away from this whale, thinking that the show was over, the whale resurfaced and shortly commenced one of the longest sessions of repetitive fluke-slapping I’ve ever seen. I shot more than 250 frames before I let off on the shutter release for fear of getting too many of the same shots. I’ve included a couple of examples (below) of this noisy 20-minute tirade.

fluke slap-16Jan2016

This whale continued its fluke-slapping behavior for nearly 20 minutes. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

fluke slap-16Jan2016

Showing off for the tourists: This young adult whale lifts a demure tip of the pectoral fin while slamming its flukes sharply on the surface. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

flukes slap-16Jan2016

Eventually, the prolonged fluke-slapping of this immature adult began to draw a crowd of onlookers. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

 

 

Whalewatching 2016: Part 4

31 Jan

flukeslap

12 January Cruise

At LAST! The weather is no longer a hindrance to taking decent photos: From the week of 12 January onward, the seas have been unusually calm and the skies clear (except for a couple of days with severe “vog” haze). It’s now well into the first month of the peak of the migration (roughly mid-January through early March). The whales encountered during this cruise displayed a greater variety of surface behavior than previous cruises. I think this might be due to there being more whales present than the previous months, as well as more receptive females present and an increase in the ratio of males to females. These factors may also account for why I’ve begun to see so many surface-active competition pods.

This three-whale competition pod's members each displayed different behaviors as I took the shot: a flukes-up dive, a "round-out" dive and bubble-blowing.

This three-whale competition pod’s members each displayed different behaviors as I took the shot: a flukes-up dive, a “round-out” dive and bubble-blowing. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

This competition pod turned into a three-way pushing and shoving match, looking more liked a rugby scrum that a graceful whale ballet.

This competition pod turned into a three-way pushing and shoving match, looking more liked a rugby scrum that a graceful whale ballet. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

The following is an extreme-distance shot of a solitary adult whale performing a partial breach; I was about a half-mile away and just barely had enough time to get off one good shot.

Shot this breaching whale at the maximum range of my 300 mm lens.

Shot this breaching whale at the maximum range of my 300 mm lens. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

One of the most commonly seen behaviors in surface-active competition pods is bubble-blowing. It’s employed by the males in a comp-pod to confuse its competitors, the idea being to impair another whale’s ability to see the lone female being pursued, giving the perpetrator a chance to slip in close to her and become her primary escort (and maybe get a shot at mating with her).

A competition pod male indulges in some vigorous bubble-blowing, hoping the bubble screen will temporarily blind other combatants so he can slip in next to the female being pursued.

A competition pod male indulges in some vigorous bubble-blowing, hoping the bubble screen will temporarily blind other combatants so he can slip in next to the female being pursued. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A surface-active competition pod whose participants are doing a lot of bubble-blowing. The towers of the Kealia Beach Power Station is visible in the background.

A surface-active competition pod whose participants are doing a lot of bubble-blowing. The towers of the Kealia Beach Power Station is visible in the background. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A behavior known as a “pec wave” is believed to be employed by female Humpback whales to signal that she is “receptive’ and willing to consider mating with a suitable male (but only after leading a pack of suitors all over the bay as she checks them out). The whale usually rolls over onto her side and holds up one of her huge (more than 15 feet long) pectoral, waving it around lazily, occasionally slamming it down hard on the surface (this is known as a “pec slap”). This usually is sufficient to bring in several nearby males who then compete to be her primary escort.

A "pec wave" is believed to be a signal to surrounding male whales that the perpetrator is sexually receptive. All this female managed to attract was a boatload of picture-snapping tourists.

A “pec wave” is believed to be a signal to surrounding male whales that the perpetrator is sexually receptive. All this female managed to attract was a boatload of picture-snapping tourists. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A “head lunge” is a violent surface behavior used by males in surface-active competition pods as a way to intimidate competitors or simply to show aggression or extreme irritation. It involves the perpetrator suddenly thrusting its head out of the water at a shallow angle and then slamming it down hard on the surface (and occasionally on another whale). The following shot was taken head-on of an aggressive male performing a violent head lunge for the benefit of an unseen competitor.

A head-on view of an aggressive male performing a head lunge. It's rare to see this behavior head-on and at such close range.

A head-on view of an aggressive male performing a head lunge. It’s rare to see this behavior head-on and at such close range. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Click HERE to view a photo of a more typical head lunge shot from off to the side of the whale.

 

I like the following shot because it shows a female successfully attracting a male with her pec wave.

A seductive pec wave has attracted the attentions of a hopeful suitor (that's him blowing at the surface to the left).

A seductive pec wave has attracted the attentions of a hopeful suitor (that’s him blowing at the surface to the left). (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

In females, pec-waving behavior often is followed by the whale rolling over onto its back and holding both pectoral fins out of the water and gently waving them (see next photo). 

This female rolled completely onto her back and began slowly waving her extended fins above her.

This female rolled completely onto her back and began slowly waving her extended fins above her. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

If a male (usually the primary escort) is close at hand, he will swim through the extended pectoral fins, gently rubbing against or stroking the female’s body. This courting behavior is known as “pec rubbing” (see next three photos).

A willing male suitor soon pops up next to the "waver".

A willing male suitor soon pops up next to the “waver”. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

The male then swims between the extended pectoral fins of the female, appearing to slide gently over her.

The male then swims between the extended pectoral fins of the female, appearing to slide gently over her. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

The two whales continue to float one atop the other for a couple of minutes, then the male is gently rolled off by the female. They continue to swim together for some time afterward.

The two whales continue to float one atop the other for a couple of minutes, then the male is gently rolled off by the female. They continue to swim together for some time afterward. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Once I figured out what I had just witnessed (I actually had to look this up to understand it), I confess to feeling somewhat privileged and humbled. Whale sex is… beautiful. No one has so far captured it on film, it being a fairly subtle sub-surface ritual. I needed a cold shower after writing this description. I may even start dating again… B-)

The following are some other, less sexually explicit images taken during the anticlimactic (no pun intended) remainder of the cruise. Just read the captions, quietly…

A nice close-up shot of a pec wave.

A nice close-up shot of the ventral (lower) surface of a whale’s pectoral fin. The large knobs on the fin’s trailing edge are tubercles; like those on the whale’s rostrum (or upper jaw), each one holds a single hair follicle to which is connected a blood vessel and a nerve ending. It is believed the hairs serve as environmental sensors much like a cat’s whiskers. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A calf performs an energetic fluke slap.

A calf performs an energetic fluke slap. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A male participant in a small competition pod performs an aggressive head lunge on the fly.

A male participant in a small competition pod performs an aggressive head lunge on the fly. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

A close-up shot of the dorsal (upper) surface of a whale's pectoral fin.

A close-up shot of the dorsal (upper) surface of a whale’s pectoral fin. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

I particularly like this shot of the beginning of a whale's "blow" because it shows that Humpback whales, unlike most other cetaceans, have a double-orifice nasal opening (similar to our own honkers).

I particularly like this shot of the beginning of a whale’s “blow” because it shows that Humpback whales, unlike most other cetaceans, have a double-orifice nasal opening (similar to our own honkers). (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

 

Whalewatching 2016: Part 3

18 Jan
peduncle throw 1 - 9 Jan 2016

Nice shot of a Humpback whale doing a “peduncle throw”. (Click on the image to view a larger version.)

9 January 2016 Cruise

Today’s cruise was typical of the mixture of good luck and challenges typical of nature photography.

Although volcanic smog (called “vog” by locals) enveloped all of Ma’alaea Bay in a thick gray haze and plagued my shoot by scattering sunlight and making pulling a focus difficult, there were so many surface-active groups and individual whales the Voyager’s captain had a hard time deciding which ones were worth following.

Oddly enough, although the vog seemed to literally swallow colors, leaving everything to come out in shades of gray and black, the haze actually provided better contrast for photos.

This cruise featured lots off surface activity with a wide variety of behaviors, including breaching, prolonged episodes of flukes slapping, and spectacular peduncle throws.

breach 1 - 9 Jan 2016

A partial breach shot from almost a half-mile away. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

The five following images are a sequence of shots taken of a single breach by a whale more than a mile off.

far breach 1 - 9 Jan 2016

#1 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

far breach 2 - 9 Jan 2016

#2 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

far breach 3 - 9 Jan 2016

#3 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

far breach 4 - 9 Jan 2016

#4 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

far breach 5 - 9 Jan 2016

#5 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

comp pod & breach - 9 Jan 2016

A whale participating in a competition pod suddenly breaches mightily in the midst of the other whales. (Click on the image to view a larger version.)

 

one mile out - 9 Jan 2016

This breaching whale was shot at the very limit of my 300 mm telephoto lens, probable more than a mile distant. Pu’u Olai crater is seen on the horizon.(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

The following photographs are shots of various whales displaying an aggressive behavior known as a “peduncle throw”. The whale’s caudal peduncle (the end-most portion of its body just before the tail) and flukes are thrown up and out of the water and quickly slammed down sideways on the surface (or another whale). This behavior is usually seen in energetic surface-active competition pods.

peduncle throw 4 - 9 Jan 2016

#1 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

peduncle throw 2 - 9 Jan 2016

#2 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

peduncle throw 6 - 9 Jan 2016

#3 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

peduncle throw 3 - 9 Jan 2016

#4 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

peduncle throw 5 - 9 Jan 2016

#5 –> Click on the image to view a larger version.

 

The following photographs show several whales displaying the behavior known as fluke slaps. The whale’s caudal peduncle and flukes are repeatedly slammed downward on the surface, producing an explosion of water and sound.

flukes slap 2 - 9 Jan 2016

#1 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

flukes - 16 Jan 2016

#2 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

flukes slap

#3 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

The two following pics show the size comparison of a whale to an inflatable raft carrying more than a dozen passengers.

whale and raft 2 - 9Jan2016

#1 –> Click on the image to view a larger version.

 

whale and raft - 9Jan2016

#2 –> Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

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