It’s one of the perks we always look forward to when we travel to Maui. The humpback whales! Even from our lanai in Honokowai, we can scan the ocean for blows, tail slaps, flipper waves, and the prized breeches.
The humpbacks are here from December to March and apparently they became more active as time progresses. Perhaps they too feel the pressure as their tropical vacation nears its conclusion and they must return to northern, krill-rich waters.
It always amazes me to think, as I catch glimpses of those behemoth bodies, that the adult whales are not eating anything all the while they are here! Now there’s a switch from human vacationers to Hawaii!
Why do they come here? Pregnant females come here to give birth in the sheltered waters between the islands. This underwater shelf is like a kiddie pool to them. A safe place to teach their kiddielinks about the world.
In fact, sometimes when you are out whale watching, a curious babe will come and investigate your vessel. Mom is always nearby, making sure the child doesn’t get too close. You can almost hear her saying, “Now, Junior, here is a safe place to learn about boats, but anywhere else avoid them like a plague of nets!”
Often, when you see a mom and babe, there will be a third whale, a male. This is not the father but a guardian. Or as my single-parent students often call the men in their mothers’ lives: “Uncle.” This uncle hangs around, protecting both mom and child, hoping to impress her enough with his parenting skills that she will choose him when the baby has “flown the nest” and she is ready to mate again.
That’s the other thing the whales come to do. Mate. Most of the impressive activity you see above water is a result of the mating competition. The bulls will get into real battles, bashing each other, whacking each other with karate chops with those enormous white flippers of theirs, and repeatedly slapping the water with tail flukes. If you are ever whale watching, you just might be lucky enough to find yourself near a bull fight. If you do, your craft will have no choice but stop and watch until the whales themselves have moved far enough away. Lucky you!
As for photographing this amazing behaviour? For me, it never turns out like it looks in real life. Invariably, where ever my camera is pointed, the action is happening somewhere else. The most I seem to get is a black streak. I have to explain, “If you look really closely, you can just see the famous humped back.” Or a white splash, “There was a full breach right here just a split second before I clicked!” But of course, no photograph can describe the huge size of these creatures nor come any where close to capturing that stomach-lifting sense of awe you feel at each whale blow.
For that you have to see it in person.