\"Whale mugging\"

Awesome day on ROB yesterday! Perfect weather, glassy waters, \"surprise encounter\" data collection, and we got “mugged” two times!

About 10 minutes after Ocean Intrigue vessel left Ma’alaea harbor, we heard a passenger shouted “whale right next to the boat!”, Captain Joe immediately stopped the boat, looked at me and said; \"definitely a surprise encounter!\". An adult whale surfaced very close on the starboard of the vessel about 50 yards, and stayed in a horizontal position without swimming, in a resting state, a behavior called logging. Captain Joe could not move the boat; federal regulations prohibit approaching whales closer than 100 yards, and if you are less than 100 yard from whale you cannot move the boat until the whale departs. We stayed with the whale for about 15 minutes until it swam away. By collecting data on these \"surprise encounters\", ROB program wants to determine the potential effects of whale watching operation on the behavior and safety of humpbacks in Maui County waters, especially in relation to boat strikes. In Hawaiian waters between 2001 and 2006 one to four whale vessel strikes were reported, but there were 5 to 11 annually from 2006 to 2010; the increasing of these incidents are also due to the increasing of North Pacific humpbacks population, increasing at 5-6% annual rate. This is an important conservation issue and by investigating these “surprise encounters” we will have a better understand of the factors that influence these incidents, and along with federal regulations for whale protection, help to reduce boat collision.

After the whale involved in the “surprise encounter” departed, Captain Joe headed the boat toward an competitive pod, a group of males competing for access to a female, stopping the boat about 200 yards from them. Suddenly, two whales surfaced very close to the boat, and stayed with us for about 20 minutes swimming around and underneath the boat. We certainly got “mugged”. “Whale mugging” is the term used when the captain can’t move the boat until the whale has departed. It’s amazing to see the whales swimming beneath the boat; you can compare its size to the boat and realize how big these animals are. These whales can reach a length of 45 feet! The two animals left us and we kept watching the competitive pod from a 400 yards distance for other 15 minutes, and when we were about to leave, two whales “mugged” us again! They were so close that we could see the tubercles (the fleshy knobs on humpbacks rostrum), which has a single coarse hair, and it’s believed to have a sensory function, similar to that of whiskers. A lucky whale watching indeed, “mugged” two times!