In the photo, a humpback whale is rocketing its estimated 40-ton body out of the water. The fast shutter speed of the camera catches what must be thousands of water droplets spiraling around the whale’s enormous body—off its sun-glinting, scallop-edged pectoral fins and haloing its head. The action in this image was caught after the whale’s propulsion reached its apex, and the whale’s heavy body is falling back into the ocean with what you can only imagine will be a mighty splash. Its body is just shy of perpendicular to the water. Its pec fins stretch at nearly 90-degree angles from its side, providing a visual explanation for the whale’s scientific name--Megaptera novaeangliae, which translates from Latin to English as, “big winged New Englander.”
We see the underside of the animal in this picture, its body looking very dark, nearly black. Looking closely, though, we can see milk-white on the underside of one pectoral fin, and leaning in for a better look, stripes of white are visible on the underside of its lower jaw. These stripes highlight the ventral pleats of the animal, reminding us how they expand their accordion-like throat to feed when they are in Alaska. Nearby, there is a gathering of brownish barnacles, acquired, most likely, in the cold waters of Alaska where these marine mammals summer. I think of these barnacles like the hairs on the leviathan’s chin. At least, that’s the approximately location.
Speaking of hairs, the whale’s bumpy “tubercles” are visible on the upper side of its rostrum. From these, two hairs protrude. Not that we can see the hairs in the photo. It’s just a little something I know. Technically, tubercles are hair follicles—raised ones, as if the animal is perpetually experiencing what we call “chicken skin” in Hawaii.
The only part of the whale still underwater is its fluke, or tail, the “thumbprint” that could identify it in a scientific database based on the pigmentation on the underside of its fluke.
What amazes me to this day is that I took this photo.
What you cannot know from the photo is that this animal breached an estimated once every three to five minutes for the two-hour duration of the whale watching boat tour
I was fortunate enough to be on last year during February, known as the height of whale watching season.
After it was over, and I posted photos to Facebook and blogged about it, I had people say to me, “You are so lucky.”
But was it really luck that found me on Maui last February? Was it luck that found me on yellow raft off Lahaina around which the whale we dubbed Lola performed her breaching show?
I ran across a quote earlier today by fellow blogger Chris Guillebeau who wrote, “Luck appears when you show up.”
But I’ve showed up for dozens of whale watching outings and barely saw the hump of a humpback. Many times, I’ve walked the beach in search of a Hawaiian monk seal and come up empty.
Showing up is the first step, but I think this statement by Thomas Jefferson, goes a little deeper. "I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Because implied in here is that luck requires a repeated effort--to show up, to practice, to work hard.
I signed up for five, consecutive days of whale watching last February. Lola showed up on day two, and while she completely sated my photographic lust for breaching whales, I went back on days three, four and five. I think I went to show my gratitude to Lola and just to be on the water in her vicinity. And, sure, we saw whales on those “bonus” days. But nothing like Lola’s decadent display. Honestly, I was perfectly happy with that. Anything more would have been like cheating on Lola;-)
We all have dreams. We all have so-called bucket lists. I wanted to see humpback whales in Hawaii—really see them in action and, finally, last year, I did. From now through March, the humpback whales are thick in Hawaii. If seeing humpback whales up close is your dream, I encourage you to show up. Again. And again. And again. In fact, whatever your dream is, show up, work hard, repeat. And when your dream does come true, show up again, and say, “Thank you.”
"Thank you, Lola!"