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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.)

 

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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.)

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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.)

Hawaii’s Jungle Fowl: They can’t tell morning from midnight

21 Jun

Until this morning, like every other Maui kama’aina (long-time resident), I was convinced that the only really objectionable characteristics of our ubiquitous feral chickens (more correctly known as Red Junglefowl) was that they’re everywhere on the island and they crow (loudly and constantly) at any hour of the night or early morning hours.  Unfortunately, those “sweet little chickens” the malahini (tourists) so love to feed and photograph have turned to crime!

Jungle fowl rooster, hen and two fledged youngsters.

A family portrait: Jungle Fowl rooster, hen and two fledged youngsters: E. Lipoa Road, Kihei, Maui.
(To view a larger version, click on image.)

While shopping at the outdoor farmers market in north Kihei, I noticed a hen and her clutch of eight chicks foraging along the ground amongst some empty fruit and vegetable boxes. Much to the joy of some tourists and other naive adults, the hen suddenly performed a VERY athletic standing broad-jump into a crate of ripe apple bananas, whereupon she proceeded to loudly tear off several individual fruits from their bunches and fling them to the ground in front of the appreciative chicks. The attending clerks were not amused, and they and I had to chase the offending parent bird and her piteously cheeping children out of the banana crate and onto the street.

Red Jungle Fowl, Gallus gallus, run wild on most of the main islands of Hawaii, where they frequently cross-breed with domestic fowl. Jungle Fowl may be the progenitors of modern domesticated chickens. They probably originated in Southeast Asia about 8,000 years ago. The Polynesian colonists brought them to the Hawaiian Islands, along with other domesticated livestock and plants (referred to as “canoe species”), on their large sea-going canoes. Over the years, enough junglefowl escaped and went feral to form a large population on all of the major islands. One popular theory that’s gained street creds locally is that many of the feral birds are the escaped offspring of the hundreds of fighting cocks bred for the ring. Though outlawed in Hawaii, cock fighting is still popular as an underground sport. The presence of so many illegal “backyard” breeders inadvertently loosing track of the offspring may account for the recent spike in the feral birds’ population.

Rooster at kokee park HQ

Rooster standing guard duty at Kokee Park headquarters, Kaua’i.
(To view a larger version, click on the image.)

The Red Jungle Fowl belongs to the class Aves, order Galliformes, suborder Phasiani and family Phasianidae, which includes pheasants and partridges. It is indigenous (native) to Southwest Yunnan Province (China), Myanmar (AKA Burma), Thailand, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, northern Sumatra, the north-western region of the Himalayas and northern India. Subsequently it was introduced to Africa, Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the  Northern Mariana Islands, and the Palau Group, as well as Hawaii, where the birds flourish and breed in large numbers due to the absence of any of their natural predators.

In general, the male bird’s plumage is gold, red, brown, dark maroon, orange, metallic green and gray. Two characteristic white patches shaped like ears appear on either side of the head. These “ear patches”, as well as the greyish skin of their bare legs and feet, distinguish Red Jungle Fowl from other chickens. The male birds can measure up to 70 cm in length. Both sexes have a total of 14 tail feathers, but the rooster’s tail can grow to almost 28 cm in length. Additionally, the female bird tends to be leaner and more compact than her tame barnyard counterparts.Normally, the Red Jungle Fowl is herbivorous and insectivorous: they favor wild and domesticated seeds of any kind they encounter while foraging, while beetles and other earthbound insects fill out their menu.
Hen and rooster greeting visitors to Kokee Park headquarters, Kaua'i.

Hen & rooster greeting visitors to Kokee Park headquarters, Kaua’i.
(To view a larger version, click on the image.)

Fertile eggs take about 20 days to gestate and hatch. Chicks are fully feathered by the fourth or fifth week, and are sexually mature by their fifth month (female birds mature a bit later than males). In the wild, Gallus gallus can live for as long as ten years, under ideal conditions.
Rooster and chick - Kihei

Rooster and chick, E. Lipoa Road, Kihei, Maui.
(To view a larger version, click on the image.)

During their mating season, which is usually Spring and Summer (though the Hawaiian birds seem to be “at it” all year long), the male birds announce their presence with the familiar “cock-a-doodle-doo” call. This serves both to attract potential mates and to make other male birds in the area aware of the risk of fighting a breeding competitor. Unlike the myth of the “cock crowing at dawn”, the roosters in my immediate neighborhood start crowing at about 3 or 4 AM and don’t put a sock in it until well after sunrise, usually 8 or 9 AM. I sleep like the dead, and so am not bothered in the least by the morning symphony of 10 or more birds crowing their defiance at one another. However, some of my immediate neighbors are not similarly blessed with the gifts of nocturnal oblivion and tolerance toward poultry, and so have resorted to setting live-traps in strategic locations. Trapped birds are then removed to the outskirts of town or the nearest golf course to live out their lives disturbing someone else’s peace (and putting).

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