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Whales and Rainbows

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Kauai
Feb 18, 2009

So, I went on a whale-watching boat tour the other night and all I got was this picture.  At least, the horizon is somewhat straight.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not that we didn’t see whales.  Whales surrounded us on all sides.

“Nine o’clock,” someone yelled from one side of the boat as someone on the other side yelled, “Two-thirty.”  We used a clock to spot whales, using the boat’s prow as 12:00.  At one time, we had groups of whales at nine o’clock, two-thirty and six o’clock.  I didn’t know where to look or which side of the boat to run to.

Behavior-wise, most of the whales surfaced to catch a few breaths and, then, dive back down.  Captain Quentin (with Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures) reported this was typical behavior he’d witnessed for the past week.  The groups with calves submerged for three to five minutes before rising to the surface again.  We sat and watched it happen.

We saw numerous blows, lots of hump rolls and a few (see my picture) fluke-up dives.  We saw three breaches, one close enough to make Captain Quentin move the boat.  ”That’s too close for comfort,” he said.  By law, it is illegal to approach a humpback whale within 100 yards.  This one pushed Captain Quentin’s comfort zone by approaching us.

But we didn’t see any repeated behaviors, like pec slaps, head lunges or tail slaps, so not much opportunity for the money shot.  A rainbow arced over land as it rained, and I captured this image, my favorite of the two-hour event.

Jean Souza runs the Kaua’i office of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.  She joined us on board, sharing tidbits of facts, which I found quite interesting.  Like a humpback’s blow is powerful.  They exhale at a rate of 300 mph.  Compare that to a human sneeze, which reaches speeds of 40 mph.  Also, males tend to perform fluke-up dives, while females prefer fluke-down dives.  She also shared a new behavior, called a “swish.”  It is something of a sideways swipe of the tail, and scientists think it’s a sign of irritation.  Good thing Captain Quentin moved us away from swish-able range.

Since February is Humpback Whale Month in Hawaii and since Maui is known as the whaling capital of the Pacific, I am headed to Maui this weekend to investigate.  I plan to attend Whale Day, visit whaling museums and do some more whalewatching.  I’ll try to blog morning, noon and night, so check back.  Better yet, sign up to receive email updates or subscribe to our RSS feed.  You’ll find instructions on how to do so in the sidebar to the right.

A hui hou.

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