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The Story of Argos
Humpback whales are found in all oceans of the world. These beautiful 40-ton marine mammals are winter residents of Hawaii. They arrive here each winter, starting around November. They depart gradually as spring approaches. By mid-May, there are only a few stragglers left.
Throughout these months of winter and early spring, the residents and visitors of Hawaii are very fortunate to have the opportunity to watch humpback whales. In many parts of Hawaii, whales can be seen from shore, especially during February and March, the peak of the season.
Whales in Hawaii are protected by a number of laws, including one that forbids approaching humpback whales within 100 yards. This applies to boaters, kayakers, swimmers, and even stand-up paddleboarders. At Pacific Whale Foundation, we strictly adhere to this 100 yard approach law. Each of our captains is trained to take certain steps (disengage the engines and stop the boat) when a whale appears that is 100 yards or less from our vessel.
However, there are whales that are just as curious about us as we are about them. In fact, some of them truly act as if they want us to get to know them.
Your adopted whale, Argos, is one of those whales. Our staff and guests met this whale on January 26, 2011 off the coast of Maui, during a snorkel trip to Molokini, a small u-shaped volcanic remnant in the middle of the ocean that has a coral reef growing within it.
Argos spent 40 minutes with our vessel Ocean Spirit, rolling around under the water then popping up less than 5 yards away from the starboard bow over and over again. The people onboard were crying and laughing with excitement. We were not able to determine the gender of this friendly whale, but we know from its size that Argos is a subadult whale (a whale that has not yet reached full maturity).
Because Argos was within 100 yards of our vessel, our captain was not able to start up the boat or move it. As the boat drifted along, Argos followed it, too. For the passengers on board, it was an experience to remember forever.
It is not uncommon for subadult whales (which we affectionately call "subbies") to behave in this way around boats, just in the same way that human youngsters are often naturally more curious than adults.
Check out the photo and you can understand why we provided it with the name "Argos." Do you see the many barnacles on his rostrum (snout)? To our staff, the barnacles resembled a bunch of eyes, and so they named the whale Argos, after a 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology. It is said that the peacock's beautiful tail (with its 100 "eye" spots) was created to pay homage to Argos for the work he performed for Hera, the wife of Zeus.
Barnacles, of course, are not eyes. They are actually parasites that attach themselves to the whale. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, and can attach themselves directly to the skin, to other established barnacles or can even embed themselves in the whale's flesh. You may be surprised to know that barnacles do not actually feed off the whale, but instead ride along on the whale, to better feed on planktonic marine organisms in the deep ocean. The most common types of barnacles found on humpback whales are acorn barnacles. They can be found attached to the flukes, flippers and head of the whale. Humpback whales have been found with as much as one thousand pounds of acorn barnacles attached to them! The barnacles on Argos may drop off someday, or may persist on this whale for a long time.
Humpback whales are long distance travelers (some travel 3,000 or more miles between their feeding areas and their breeding areas) and we can only imagine that they don't welcome the extra baggage of the barnacles they carry.
Because the barnacles may fall off, they are not a good tool for helping to identify individual whales over time. Instead, researchers identify individual humpback whales by their tail flukes. The underside of each whale's tail flukes displays a combination of black and white pigmentation that is unique to each whale. Some whale flukes are almost all black; others are almost all white. The unique pigmentation markings, coupled with the outline or shape of the tail flukes, let us identify individual whales. Whales will often lift their tail flukes upward as they dive (in what researchers call a "fluke up dive"), giving us a good look at these pigmentation markings. In the field, our researchers photograph these flukes, and correlate the fluke I.D. photos with other data including the date of the encounter, the GPS coordinates, the whale's pod composition and behaviors. As we obtain new fluke I.D. photos over the years, we compare them to existing fluke I.D. photos. When we find two thatmatch, we have a resight -- which means that the whale has been identified twice. Resights over the years let us compile a life story of the whale.
Your adoption certificate displays a fluke identification photo of Argos. As we observe and photograph humpback whales in the years to come, we will be comparing those new fluke I.D.s against the I.D. photo of Argos. When we have a resight of Argos, you will be alerted right away. Perhaps Argos will be back in Hawaii next year, amazing yet another group of whalewatchers with his friendly and curious behaviors.