Log for April 7, 2015

Has anyone heard of the term getting "mugged" by whales? Until this winter, I had not. I was introduced to this term by Hannah and Annie, two of our naturalists who are spending the winter and much of the spring working aboard whale watches on the island of Maui in Hawaii (tough life). During my visit, they explained to me numerous times that getting mugged is not when someone swipes your wallet but rather when you have a really close encounter with a whale. I didn't, however, truly understand what getting mugged by humpbacks entailed until yesterday.


Our whale watch started off pretty great with all four species showing a strong presence on the northwest corner of the bank. As we seemingly inched forward at a speed of about 10 knots, three separate humpbacks convened ahead of the Asteria slowing us to a stop. After quick non-fluking dives which provided us with no ID shots, a duo surfaced on either side of the boat. These whales, one of which appeared to be a juvenile, were incredibly close to us giving passengers the opportunity to see every detail of their gorgeous anatomy including their tubercles, blow holes and even the barnacles growing on various parts of their bodies. We noticed evidence of a, possibly recent, entanglement on the juvenile who displayed linear chaffing in the indents between her tubercles (see photo) and around her tail stock. Luckily the young whale showed now outward signs of poor health and was quite active.


These whales stayed very close by and exhibited lots of trumpeting and darting about (see photo). As the humpbacks repeatedly swam from one side of the boat to the other, only occasionally did the third whale surface with the other two. Each time all three swam beneath the boat, only two would pop up on the other side. We suspected this third whale, who we quickly realized was Milkweed (a 2014 mother), was spending most of her time directly beneath the boat. I can't explain the behavior we observed throughout this time but it certainly gave us something to think about. 

We drifted for about 45 minutes over which time the current and wind blew us a couple miles southeast. These three whales who turned out to be Milkweed, Tornado's 2014 calf, and an unknown stayed within about 20 yards of us the ENTIRE time! By the time our whale watch neared the end, Captain Joe and I were concerned about whether or not we could safely depart for home with these whales circling us! Luckily just as we were looking for an out, Mostaza's 2014 calf and Sundown came to save the day. As Milkweed and this new duo separated off from Tornado's 2014 calf and our unknown, we were finally able to safely turn for home.

The term "whale mugging" simply refers to a circumstance when the captain can't safely maneuver the boat until a whale departs which is certainly the situation we found ourselves in yesterday! So for everyone who joined us on this very special whale watch, you can go home and tell your friends and family that you were "mugged" by three humpbacks!!


Before signing off, I want to note another very unusual occurrence from yesterday. It appears that the strong westerly winds that gave us quite the roller coaster ride on Saturday blew a large number of shore birds out to sea. These perching birds, which are not used to long periods of flight and can not float atop waves as seagulls do, were flying circles around our boat looking for an opportunity to rest. As I was sarcastically directing guests to make perches with their fingers, a bold but tiny golden-crowned kinglet, gracefully landed on a gentleman's gloved hand (see photo). The kinglet remained on his glove for about 10 minutes but soon found shelter elsewhere. This wasn't the only lost bird looking for shelter. Captain Joe experienced a mugging of his own when a large northern flicker decided to take up residency in the wheelhouse right as our trio also joined us. This woodpecker hitched a ride to land with us and had a front row view all the way home (see photo)! As we slowed into the inner harbor, I noticed a few other stowaways flying out of crevices throughout the boat. It was nice to see that we were able to bring some of these lost birds safely ashore.  

These early whale watches have been so exciting. Despite the cold weather conditions, I can't wait to get back on the water! 

Tasia Blough
Naturalist and Photographer

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