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A Rough Weather Encounter
Ma’alaea is known as one of the windiest boat harbors in the world and the past few days it’s been living up to its reputation. We’ve had winds of about 30 knots with gusts at higher speeds. But despite the weather, the whale watch trips have been very exciting (and I don’t just mean like riding a roller coaster). We’ve had breaching and pec-slapping and tail extensions and yesterday we even had one of the best whale watches of the season.
We were out on the Ocean Intrigue and hadn’t been out of the harbor long when we came across a mother and her calf. After watching them a while the mother seemed to decide it was time to teach her calf how to breach. She leapt from the water several times and then the calf followed, repeatedly. What better way to start a whale watch than with lots of breaching? When the mother finally moved on to the next lesson and started pec-slapping, the baby didn’t seem to notice and kept right on breaching. It took a while, but as this pair calmed down, the captain decided to let them rest and headed off into deeper waters.
We hadn’t gone far when we came across a competition pod surrounding another mother and calf. We watched from a distance, but the mother and calf headed straight for the boat. Although it was windy, we could see the silhouette of the whales underwater and could see where the mother and calf were as they passed under us. We could also see where her escorts where, on either side and behind her. The whales circled the boat and swam under and around us for several minutes before finally taking off towards the west. No matter how long the whales circle the boat hold us at the mercy of the waves and wind (which no one seemed to mind) it never seems long enough.
We continued to watch the same competition pod from outside 100 yards when we noticed a joiner headed towards the group. As it got closer, the mother and calf then headed straight back towards our boat again! We were mugged a second time! We watched the males quickly swim around trying to jockey for position closest to the mother. The whales were so close that when the males head lunged I could see the hairs in their tubercles through my zoom lens. The mother and calf proceeded to swim under and around the boat all over again. While the mother kept her calf close, she didn’t seem to mind letting it get within feet of our boat. We watched their silhouettes under the water and stared in awe as we could see tiny details on their body. Everyone was rushing from side to side to see all of the whales around us.
There is a problem with a mugging that close in high winds: the whales blow. As one of the males tried to push out the competition, he came particularly close to the boat directly upwind of us. Then he gave a forceful blow. Almost everyone at the front of the boat, even those of us on the upper deck, was showered in whale snot. Nobody seemed to mind that either though. We were all to busy being excited and looking for where the whales would pop up next. They stayed with us for several minutes longer, but as the whales swam away for the second time, one of them start pec-slapping, right on top of another whale.
It’s rare to have this sort of encounter even once in a trip, so you can imagine how lucky we all felt after our second time seeing these large creatures face to face. None of us seemed to mind how windy it was or the waves and spray getting us wet on the way back (many of us were already wet from the whale blow anyway), we were all too excited talking about our awesome close encounters (emphasis on the plural) with the humpbacks.