The humpback whale’s pectoral fins can be up to 15′ long, proportionally the longest of all whales. A humpback whale can lie on the surface of the water and slap the water with its pectoral fin.
On our second whale watching cruise in Maui, we saw a whale slap the water with its pectoral fin. In the slideshow below, there are two whales, one behind the other, with the island of Lanai in the background. The sequence starts with the back whale raising its pectoral fin and ends with a splash. The elapsed time is almost a second.
The dorsal fin of the front whale is visible. The whale in back is lying on the surface behind the first whale. The whale in back raises its pectoral fin and slaps the water behind it, away from the front whale. Perhaps the front whale is a female, and the back whale is a male.
At the beginning of the sequence, the front whale is lying flat on the surface. By the end, the whale’s back is bent and the dorsal fin is raised — the whale is getting ready to dive. Here’s the tail with water streaming off, 3 seconds later.
There are some white spots at the back edge of the tail. As seen in this crop from the photo above, the white spots are barnacles, all clustered at the tip of the tail.
These whales were near our boat — the photos were taken at 100 mm, the shortest focal length on the 100-400 mm lens. An interesting feature of the Canon 100-400 mm lens is the push-pull action to change the focal length. Lenses usually have a ring that you twist. After you get accustomed to the push-pull, it’s very fast for zooming, especially useful when photographing wildlife where you make rapid adjustments or lose the shot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The three whales in this sequence are swimming close together.
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.
Returning to harbor, we were treated with another tail. These two photos show the top and bottom of the same whale’s tail.
The white and black markings on the bottom side of the tail uniquely 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.
Honu is the Hawaiian word for green sea turtle. From the balcony of a Maui apartment, we spent hours watching up to four turtles eat algae from submerged rocks close to shore, seeing if we could spot them and waiting for them to surface and show themselves. Similar to what you do on a safari, except in Hawaii. Watching wildlife is like a treasure hunt — you don’t know if you’ll find what you’re looking for, but you can increase your chances by knowing what to look for (understanding the animal’s behavior, in the case of wildlife).
Turtles breathe air. They take only a second or two to stick their head above water, exhale, and inhale. Then they swim for a few minutes until they need another breathe. They slowly rise to the surface before taking a breath.
The photo below shows the serrated lower jaw, where the sun shines into the turtle’s mouth.
The photos were taken with an APS-C camera and a telephoto lens at 400 mm, so the effective focal length is 640 mm. Since the turtle surfaces for only a second or two, you have to focus and set the exposure before the turtle sticks its head up. Time of day is important. There’s more light in the middle of the day, except that sunlight reflecting off the water surface produces glare. I brought a circular polarizing filter to reduce the glare off the water, but I did something stupid and broke the filter before I could use it.
While snorkeling at the Black Rock at Kaanapali, a large turtle with a 3′ long shell swam under us effortlessly. We tried to follow but couldn’t keep up with the turtle for long.
Haleakala is a volcano on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Haleakala means house of the sun in Hawaiian. According to legend, the demigod Maui roped the sun in order to extract a promise from the sun to move slower and thereby make the daylight longer.
The guidebooks and tourism industry tell tourists to visit Haleakala at sunrise. We had never done this, so we decided to try it.
Sunrise in February is around 7:00 am. We left Kaanapali at 3:15, allowing 2.5 hours to drive to the summit and park by 6:00, an hour before sunrise. Parking is limited at the summit. We stopped at the first visitor center to use the restrooms, since the summit has no restrooms.
It’s windy and cold at the summit. To make matters worse, there was a solid bank of clouds below us and no clouds above us, so there were no beautiful red and orange clouds before sunrise. The first photo shows the sun rising from the clouds. The second includes the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island.
The peak at the Haleakala summit 10,023 feet (3,055 m) is called Red Hill in Hawaiian. Below the red cinders are painted by the rising sun.
The Haleakala crater is about 11.25 km (7 mi) across, 3.2 km (2 mi) wide, and nearly 800 m (2,600 ft) deep. From the crater visitor’s center, see the cinders sloping down to the crater bottom. Decades ago, I hiked and camped in the crater for four days. The trail down to the crater is called the Sliding Sands Trail. Some parts you take a step and slide down another step, a fast way to go downhill! The easiest way out of the crater is a rocky trail behind the crater wall on the left.
This photo shows the cinder cones on the crater floor. Water has worn away two gaps in the crater walls: the larger one on the left, and another on the far right that feeds streams near Hana.
The sunrise was not worth getting up at 3:00, driving up the mountain in the dark, and freezing for an hour waiting for the sunrise. But we did this at the beginning of our vacation, while we were still adjusting to the time change from the mainland, so we were waking up early anyway. From our condo we saw the sun set during our week-long vacation. These sunsets had little color, so perhaps we weren’t so unlucky with our sunrise.
I enjoyed seeing Red Hill and the crater at dawn. Outside the golden hour, Red Hill wouldn’t be so red, and the rocks and cinder cones in the crater would appear flat. Now I’ve seen a sunrise at Haleakala summit, and I don’t wonder about what I’ve missed all these years.