A Whale of a Tail, Part 1

There are humpback whales that commute betwen Alaska and Hawaii. Humpback whales eat fish and krill, and Alaska is where their food is. However, Alaskan waters are too cold for the calves to survive so females journey to Hawaii to calve. Males go to Hawaii to mate because the females are there. In the winter (December to April), humpback whales visit Maui to calve and mate.

Adult humpback whales range in length from 12–16 metres (39–52 ft) and weigh approximately 36,000 kilograms (79,000 lb). Hawaii has warm, blue waters, but it doesn’t have krill, so the whales live off their fat until they return to Alaska. A mother loses half her bodyweight nursing her calf. A male loses a third of his bodyweight in Hawaii.

We visited Maui in February to watch the whales. We went on whale watching cruise from Lahaina with Trilogy, a company that sails catamarans. A catamaran is more stable than a monohull boat. Trilogy limits passengers to about 40, so there’s more room to wander around the boat to see whales. We were lucky with the weather. During our cruise, it was bright, warm (80 degrees F in February!), no wind, and calm seas.

The humpback whale has a powerful, flexible tail. When diving, the humpback bends its head down and shows its dorsal fin, looking like a humpback. Hence its name.

humpback whale
humpback whale

After you see the humpback, you watch for the tail. If it’s a deep dive, you’ll see a tail. Forty minutes into our 2-hour cruise, we saw this tail with water streaming off.

humpback whale tail

Next we saw some male whales competing for the attention of a female. This is called a competition pod, where the males show off for the female and try to intimidate the other males. The female chooses her escort, at least until a bigger, stronger guy comes along. Humpback whales do not mate for life.

Here’s a whale spouting, emptying its lungs after a deep dive, with another whale looking on. The humpback has a mound on its head, and the blowhole is located behind the mound.

whales surfacing and spouting
whales surfacing and spouting

Humpback whales have small bumps on their heads. Being mammals, whales have hair. The bumps are hair follicles. Notice the star pattern from the sun reflecting off a follicle. The effect is more pronounced in the original photo.

Follicles shining brightly
Follicles shining brightly

The three whales in this sequence are swimming close together.

whale spouting
whale spouting
three's a crowd
three’s a crowd

This whale had a bite taken out of its side. See pink hole on the right-hand side of the photo, above the white water. The first mate told us there’s a kind of shark that takes a bite.

wounded whale
wounded whale

Returning to harbor, we were treated with another tail. These two photos show the top and bottom of the same whale’s tail.

whale tail with water streaming off
whale tail with water streaming off

The white and black markings on the bottom side of the tail uniquely identify the whale.

tail markings identify the whale
tail markings identify the whale

We had a great time whale watching.

I used a Canon 40D camera and a 100 mm – 400 mm telephoto lens. The focal length of these photos ranged from 135 mm to 400 mm, so the extra reach of this telephoto helped. On an earlier whale watching cruise in Argentina, I used a 70 mm -200 mm lens, and the longer lens worked out much better. The camera has a feature to take continuous photos when the shutter button is held down. It’s great for wildlife action, and I’m slowly learning to use this feature.

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charley280

I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

4 thoughts on “A Whale of a Tail, Part 1”

    1. Thank you. Stay tuned for more whale pix. We went on a safari last year. I prepared by attempting to take pictures of hummingbirds. More than challenging for me, and good practice. I like your wildlife photos.

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