Friday, March 20, 2015

A Whale of a Tale!

Humpback whales are among the largest mammals on earth, and to be on the water in a small boat within a short distance of them is a peak lifetime thrill.

Ocean Sports offer quality experience whale watches and snorkle trips on the Big Island of Hawaii, and we have been privileged to take two trips with them this month. There is a large whale sanctuary off the coast which stretches from the central Kona Coast to the North Kohala on the west side of the island. Kawaihae sits right in the middle, and we were in touch with the magnificent creatures within minutes of leaving the harbor. The experienced captain, crew and naturalists on board not only got us as close to the whales as is safe for them but also ran an interpretive commentary about the whales we were seeing. 


Our large catamaran, Alala proved a comfortable viewing platform, allowing everyone adequate space to move around and catch views of spouts, bubbles and flukes. With only about 60 passengers on board, we had inside seating, outside seating and standing room against the rails all around the boat. 

Catching good shots  of moving targets is challenging under the best of conditions, but couple that with a moving boat, a slow camera and slower yet reflexes on the part of the photographer, and it is a miracle I was able to catch any pictures at all! 
Humpback whales migrate from the cold arctic waters around Alaska and beyond where they feed all summer, to the warm shallow waters of the tropics where they spend their winters having babies and making whoopie before making the long trek back in the late spring. Females are promiscuous, always choosing the strongest, most virile male as their mate for the next offspring. 

Sometimes already pregnant again, they lead their newborn calves back to the Arctic, nursing them along the way, and teaching them feeding techniques once they arrive in the cold, nutrient rich waters of the higher latitudes. Females lose about 40 percent of their body weight during the migratory, birthing and mating process, making the return to the Arctic necessary for their survival. Bulking up over the summer, and gaining as much as 20,000 pounds, they bring their nearly yearling calves back to the tropics to teach them the route, kiss them good bye and get back to the business of mating or giving birth again. Most females only mate every 2-3 years, but scientists have occasionally observed super-moms that have mated 3 years in a row! Can you imagine giving birth to a 1500 pound baby??? Calves suckle about 50 gallons of milk each day! 

Humpbacks are identified by their distinct and unique markings on the underside of the fluke. We were occasionally able to see these markings:

There are websites which allow the identification of specific whales, if one is intersded in dedicating one time to such endeavors. One such website is: http://www.alaskahumpbacks.org/Catalog/25_50/25-50.htm. I looked for about 12 minutes but couldn't find this one. 
 When the whale activity settled down and it was nearly time to return to shore, a crew member dropped a hydrophone into the water. Silence replaced the jabber of whale watchers, as we listened in wonder to the song of creatures we could not see. My phone voice memo won't load onto blogger, so if you want to hear a real time whale song, click here: http://livewhales.com. 

Whale watching is just one of the many ways to enjoy this beautiful island, and if you do decide to give it a try while you are visiting here, consider Ocean Adventures. We had two wonderful experiences with them. 


3 comments:

  1. Mahalo for your wonderful blog post...just one minor correction though...our company name is "Ocean Sports".
    We look forward to sharing adventures again with you next time you're in our neighborhood!

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    1. So sorry. Apologies. I fixed it!

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Barb, I adore whale watching! Rog and I go to Dana Point when we have time. Just magnificent to see. OXOX

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