Category

Hawaii

Photo of a Humpback Whale Singing

Hawaii, Humpback Whale, Photo of the Day, Wildlife

A humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) singing, Hawaii. This was shot under research permit as part of the research activities of the Hawaii Whale Research Foundation. It is virtually certain that only male humpback whales sing since genetic sampling of singers has never revealed a female. This one was hanging motionless 40′ under the surface for the duration of the 15 minute song. The same song is sung by all humpback whales in the North Pacific basin in a given year, gradually changing from year to year. A few remaining barnacles from cold northern waters are visible on the right tip of the fluke and around the genital slit on the whale’s underside; these barnacles will die and fall off the warmer Hawaiian waters.

Humpback whale (male) singing, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale (male) singing.
Image ID: 02802
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

More humpback whale photos.

This photograph was taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under provisions of NOAA / NMFS and State of Hawaii scientific research permits.

Atop Haleakala

Hawaii

We used to spend 6-8 weeks in Maui each winter as part of a humpback whale research team. One of the fringe benefits of that work was a chance to make a trip to the summit of Haleakala volcano each year, the mass of which comprises most of the island of Maui. Since people seem to have a thing about seeing the sunrise from Haleakala, and the road-clogging bike tour groups coming down the two-lane mountain road are scheduled in the morning, we avoid the crowds and instead visit Haleakala in the late afternoon (after having lunch at the Kula Lodge, which has unrivaled views). Here Tracy takes in the endless view from the rim of Haleakala, above the clouds, as the sun drops in the West. A motivational/inspirational website just licensed this image, good choice.

Atop Haleakala volcano, Maui

Atop Haleakala volcano.
Image ID: 05609
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

More Haleakala photos.

Photos of Humpback Whale Bubble Displays

Hawaii, Humpback Whale, Underwater Life, Wildlife

Humpback whales are famous for their use of bubbles to “net” prey, especially in Alaska where coordinated bubble netting among groups of humpback whales is often seen. However, humpbacks also commonly use bubble displays and air releases in their social interactions in warm waters. It is thought the these bubble releases are signals to nearby whales. This seems most true in humpback groups engaged in “rowdy” behaviour, in which a group of male whales is competing for position in the group, usually alongside a focal female whale. In these situations, bubbles seem to be released by male escort whales in an effort to intimidate rival escort whales, or to create a visual barrier.

North Pacific humpback whale, male escort bubble streams alongside mother and calf, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale, male escort bubble streams alongside mother and calf.
Image ID: 05926
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Bubble curtains occur when a whale swims along emitting a steady stream of bubbles. Seen from above water, the curtain becomes a bubble trail sometimes reaching a length of a hundred yards or more, and can be useful in locating whales that have been underwater for a while. Sometimes several competing males in a group will simultaneously create bubble curtains, perhaps to intimidate one another or “shield” a female from approach by a challenging male.

North Pacific humpback whale, male bubble trailing in competitive group, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale, male bubble trailing in competitive group.
Image ID: 02150
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Bubble blasts usually occur just as a whale is surfacing. They may be both an attempt to intimidate a nearby competing whale and an early exhalation in a particularly strenuous competitive group. Bubble blasts often accompany a head lunge, where the whale surfaces at speed, exhaling hard and with sufficient momentum that it drives forward with rostrum and head partially out of the water. Occasionally, singletons and inquisitive whales perform bubble displays in a non-agonistic situation as they swim near a boat or research divers.

Humpback whale lunging out of the water at it reaches the surface, exhaling in a burst of bubbles, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale lunging out of the water at it reaches the surface, exhaling in a burst of bubbles.
Image ID: 01407
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

North Pacific humpback whale, primary escort bubble trails alongside female amid competitive group, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

North Pacific humpback whale, primary escort bubble trails alongside female amid competitive group.
Image ID: 06034
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

Keywords: humpback whale, bubble stream, blow, spout, bubble trail, bubbles, Megaptera novaeangliae, underwater.

These photographs were taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under provisions of NOAA / NMFS and State of Hawaii scientific research permits.

Revenge of the Mahi Mahi :: Part II

Hawaii, Stories

Continued from Part I

You see, mahi, as open water fish are prone to do, seek cover underneath and beside any floating object that they can find. This mahi is no exception. He has seen manfish before, swimming gracefully below the surface and sporting deadly appendages that send out flashing darts, impaling his comrades. Under normal circumstances the mahi would keep his distance from any manfish that he saw. But he is now desperate and willing to consider anything. Furthermore, the mahi observes that this particular manfish is so bloated that it can only bob at the surface. Has it fed recently? Apparently not, since the manfish is so weak that it swims no faster than sargassum and can only vaguely wag its worthless rubbery flippers. The mahi seizes the moment and races for cover.

For a moment poor manfish is confused. Where has the mahi has gone? Why are the false killers now so keenly interested in him, swimming so closely and showing their teeth? The false killers are in manfish‘s face now, pinging him with their sonar and looking very agitated. The FK’s repeatedly swim off, turn and rush hard at the frightened little manfish. The false killers are smiling. Smiling with their famous false killer teeth. This is strange, manfish thinks, why are the FK’s suddenly acting like this?

A flash of gold and green catches my eye. Holy shit, the mahi is next to me! When did this happen? Either this mahi is the most frightened fish I have ever seen, or the most fearless, or both. It dawns on me, too late, that the mahi is using me for cover. I am insulted to think that I could, even for a moment, be mistaken for drift garbage or a stray fishing net. I realize that I have been outfoxed, that this fish knows exactly what it is doing, and that I am not only his protection but an alternate and perhaps preferable food source for the false killers. I punch at the mahi to get him away from me. The fish is too quick. I end up punching nothing but water, hard, and my shoulder starts to hurt. If I had a speargun I would serve this mahi some cold steel for having put me in this position. The guys on the boat are laughing. One of my fins is slipping off from my backpedaling. The fish is laughing.

It is assumed that when large toothed cetaceans are playing with something, they do not appreciate an interloper who comes along and takes their toy away. From the perspective of the false killer whales, I had just taken their ball and might be getting ready to go home. They were considering how to get their ball back, as well as whether I too might be some form of toy or food. Trying to explain to them that the ball just rolled over to me on its own accord was not an option.

Try as I might, I cannot keep a steady shot of the false killers as they corkscrew around and underneath me trying to get at the mahi. My fins keep getting in my way and theirs. Occasionally the mahi swims across the camera, two inches in front of the lens, but for the most part he does an admirable job of keeping me between himself and the false killers. I begin to make my way back to the boat, hoping that no other false killers show up. As I near the swim step, I look down to see the mahi hiding between my fins. I try to swipe at the fish with one of my fins, cutting the fin through the water sideways like a knife as hard as I can. I miss the fish and the sharp edge of my fin caroms off my other ankle. I cannot swear because of the water that has leaked into the top of my snorkel and is now coming out my nose and causing me to choke. The mahi ditches me for the boat. I feel used. The false killers stay on my heels as I shoot out of the water onto the swim step. No one is there to assist me with the camera, they are high-fiving on deck and laughing too hard.

Revenge of the Mahi Mahi :: Part I

Hawaii, Stories

REVENGE OF THE MAHI, or, The Hapless Research Videographer

Perhaps their reputation is unjustified. I know of no documented case where a human has been attacked by one. Nevertheless, false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are intimidating creatures. Have a false killer swim up to you and smile, displaying its many sharp and gleaming teeth, and you may wonder what possessed you to enter the water in the first place. False killers are pack hunters and are capable of taking on any animal in the ocean, with the possible exception of true killer whales. Roughly the size, color and shape of pilot whales, false killers produce canary-like vocalizations to communicate with one another as well as sonar echolocation to locate prey. On many of the occasions that we have observed false killers, they have been consuming or harassing large fish. On at least one occasion they were inquisitive of, and possibly harassing, a humpback mother, calf and male escort.

On my first day back in the islands after a three week break, we run into a group of false killers off the south side of Lanai. They are leaping out of the water and not traveling, an indication that they are on prey. I enter the water to videotape what is happening. “No problem,” I think, as I swim toward a pair of false killers herding a large fish, “finally we’ll get footage of FK’s taking prey, to complement the other footage we have shot of them clicking us with their sonar and interacting with bottlenose dolphins.” It appears to me that the FK’s are playing with their fish, and that perhaps the larger FK is teaching something about hunting to its much smaller companion. The fish, a large male mahi mahi, is flashing his colors and turning wildly, trapped at the surface by the FK’s. He is in deep trouble and knows it.

But this mahi mahi is a very smart fish, and a lucky one. (This of course is obvious. Had he not been smart and lucky, he would have been consumed by his brothers long ago). The FK’s have let him live long enough so that he is still alive when the rare manfish swims towards him and his FK adversaries. It is thus that in the manfish the cunning mahi mahi sees both salvation from his desperate situation and a remarkable opportunity to turn the tables on the species which has cruelly hunted his kind with hook and spear for millenia. Poor manfish.

As I approach the trio, one of the FK’s peels off to make a brief pass by me, then resumes his harassment of the mahi. Our policy as research videographers is to stop approaching and float at the surface when we get within decent video range, which is what I do. I am now a short distance from the boat, twenty feet away from the hunt. Much to my good fortune the action moves nearer to me and I sense that some in-the-face action is coming. My attention alternates among each of the three animals. It is when I briefly take my eyes off of the mahi that he delivers his coupe de grace, a stunning maneuver that shifts the balance of power in this silly drama. I do not recognize how thoroughly I have been outwitted until it is too late.

Continued…

Photos of Humpback Whale Pectoral Fin Displays

Hawaii, Humpback Whale

Humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, are known for displaying a wide range of surface behaviors (i.e., behaviors seen from above water), such as breaching, head lunging, tail lobbing and spyhopping. Among these behaviors, pectoral fin displays are some of the most interesting. Humpback whales have the longest pectoral fins of all cetaceans — indeed the latin Megaptera translates to “giant wing” — and they will often lift their long fins well out of the water. This behavior can be seen when the whales are gathered in social groups as well as with solitary animals.

Humpback whale swimming inverted with both pectoral fin raised clear of the water, Megaptera novaeangliae, Maui

Humpback whale swimming inverted with both pectoral fin raised clear of the water.
Image ID: 04116
Species: Humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae
Location: Maui, Hawaii, USA

These photographs were taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under NMFS scientific permits 633, 882, 587 as well as various State of Hawaii permits. Their use is subject to certain restrictions.

Keywords: humpback whale photo, megaptera novaengliae, pectoral fin.

These photographs were taken during Hawaii Whale Research Foundation research activities conducted under provisions of NOAA / NMFS and State of Hawaii scientific research permits.