Unexpected behavior

Hello All!
This week I had an exciting encounter with mother and calf pair again, but at this time the pair was accompanied by an escort, which made the whale watching trip very interesting. Escort refers to a male humpback whale that accompanies females with calves. Even though many people think escorts are the fathers of the calves, they are not, and it has been shown by genetic analysis. Researchers presume that the function of escorts is to try to mate with the mother when she comes into estrous. While quite rare, females with new born calves can have postpartum estrous and may give birth in consecutive years; but typically, female humpbacks give birth every 2-3 years.

I departed from Ma‘alaea harbor on board of PWF Ocean Odyssey vessel. The usual trade winds were blowing about 4-7 knots, and Captain decided to head to Olowalu area, where the west Maui Mountains protect the area from the trade winds. The calm waters were perfect to whale watch. We had such great time, and I collected good data for ROB program; but the best was yet to come.

We started to make our way back to the harbor, but before we left calm waters we sighted a very active calf; breaching, tailing slapping, and Captain stopped the boat. Suddenly, the escort surfaced very close to the boat, I would say 20 yards; amazingly he dove and positioned itself head down and fluke up, we could see the white of its fluke underwater. Unexpectedly, the escort started slowly rising out of the water with fluke extend, breaking into the air right in front of us, and exposing for a few seconds the pattern on the ventral portion of its fluke; luckily I had the camera and got a great identification photo. Photo identification technique is used by researches to identify individual whale by the coloration patterns on the underside of its tail fluke, which are unique to each animal; and develop long-term study to collect scientific information such as population size, migratory routes, social structure, and reproductive rate. ROB program is more interested in photo-id of whales involved in “surprise encounters”, so we can determine if same whales are involved in these encounters over the years.

Mahalo nui loa to Captain Casey, captain Anna, Morgan, Travis and Jonathan for great whale watching.





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