About twenty years ago on a clear, sunny January morning, off the coast of Maui, Hawaii I was diving in amazingly clear water at about 120 feet when I noticed a series of shadowy shapes approaching.
It was like watching eighteen-wheeled semis dancing in the distance. Then the shapes grew fins and tails and within seconds I was surrounded by seven humpback whales. Fins were so close that I could have reached out and touched them, one was below, one above and others on both sides. They moved slowly and gracefully, curious and in no hurry. One looked me keenly in the eye (a really big eye) as she passed as if telling me not to worry, all was as it should be.
I later checked my time and although it seemed like seconds, I had been with them for nearly twenty minutes. A slice of time that became my most treasured dive memory. These magnificent beings can do that to you, they are humbling and they replenish that awe that we all hold for the ocean and its creatures. I am pleased to bring this Whale of a Post to you with some really interesting info on the whale community. (photo – Colin Marshal/FLPA)
Unexplained Humpback Hoe Downs
We have been hearing a lot recently about mysteriously large gatherings of humpback whales. These whales aren’t known for being particularly social and are usually found alone or in pairs or small groups. But over the last 6-7 years, reports have been coming in of seeing as many as 22 Humpback super-groups with as many as two hundred individuals.
This phenomenon has been observed off the south-west coast of South Africa, thousands of miles away from their normal feeding grounds in the colder waters of Antarctic. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Ken Findlay, of the Cape Peninsula University in South Africa. “We don’t know for sure, what has led to such a drastic change in whale behaviour?” (photo – Ken Findlay)
This unusual feeding might be a result of the resurgence in the humpback whale population in recent years. Before the severe decline in their populations caused by whaling, humpbacks may have fed in similar, large groups in this same area, but were never documented. Now that the population is returning to pre-whaling numbers, their behaviour may also be returning to earlier patterns. Read more about Humpback super-groups in New Scientist. or at Sciencealert.com.
Why Whales Breach!
And all this time I thought they were just trying to splash the tourists in the whale watching boats. But no, as reported in Hakai Magazine whales are jumping out of the water, the better to communicate. It seems that cetacean biologists have long suspected that a whale’s breaching is its way of saying “Good Morning” or “Hello” or whatever whales need to say to each other. (photo – Colin Marshal/FLPA/New Scientist)
We all know that whales are the ocean’s premier long distance vocalists and their haunting music has become so ubiquitous that it’s used as telephone background while waiting to talk to your dentist. But after hours of observing whale behavior, researchers are convinced that “social sounds” (not the long-distance songs) include surface-active behaviors such as tail and fin slapping and yes, breaching. These actions are like beating a drum, creating acoustic signals, that might travel better than a vocal signal.
Ailbhe S. Kavanagh and the research team from Queensland University observed 76 groups of migrating whales paying particular attention to their surface-active displays. And patterns did emerge, breaching for example seems to be communicating between, rather than within a group. While fin and tail slapping was a more close-range communication.
“This makes absolute perfect sense,” says Chris Patterson, a cetacean biologist at Virginia’s George Mason University, not associated with this research. “Even though these whales can produce calls that travel great distances, if there’s a lot of noise, it might be easy to drown out. Leaping up in the air and splashing down is equivalent to the really keen kid in a classroom jumping up and down waving his arms.”
A Sea Monster? Probably Not!
There have been numerous historic accounts, especially from 19th century whaling ships of whales and sea monsters locked in mortal combat. In 1875 off the coast of Brazil, Captain George Drevar of the Pauline and his crew witnessed what appeared to be battle between a whale and a giant sea serpent.: “Eventually the serpent prevailed, and the whale was dragged to the dark depths” Drevar wrote.
A Sea Monster? Could this have really happened? Robert France, from Dalhousie University in Halifax thinks he has the answer. France suggests that these sightings could indeed have been mortal battles but between whales or other marine life entangled in abandoned fishing gear that was pulling them under. (artwork – Granger Historical Picture Archive – Hakim) Read the entire story in Hakim.
France analyzed several hundred historic accounts and found that the descriptions of the sea monsters were often similar. Long tails for instance, could they have been trailing debris. Humps could have been buoys. If these sightings occurred at dusk or in the dark that would help to explain a sailor’s misinterpretation of the event. Is it possible that a problem that we no all to well today, could have been entangling marine creatures for centuries.
Shark Vs. Killer Whale: Real Mortal Combat
Drone video catches combat between rare Killer Whale and shark, posted to Monteray Bay Whale Watch. A Seven gill shark is shown in the mouth of a killer whale. Feasting on shark apparently is rare because although killer whales are fast, sharks are usually faster and difficult to catch. Surprisingly, a similar situation was photographed in the same week off Long Beach.
Unfortunately Whale Stranding Survival Rates Plummet
In the 1970’s the success rate of saving stranded whales was around 70% but today it is dramatically lower, why? As reported by Newstalk ZB, stranded whales are successfully re-floated only about 45% of the time, making New Zealand among the worst when it used to be one of the best. (photo – Tim Cuff)
Mike Ogle of the Department of Conservation admits that part of the difference is accounted for by new regulations imposed on saving stranded whales, following an incident in the 1990s when some people were injured trying to save whales during the night.
Here’s an example of the problem; recently hundreds of pilot whales were stranded at Farewell Spit. The whales were spotted at about 8pm, however because of regulations, rescue efforts could not start until the next day and by that time over 100 of the whales had died.
Whale Rescue’s Jo Halliday says that in the past they would use generators to light up the beach and feels that the safety concerns are now overblown. Blue Ocean will follow the controversy and report back with future developments.
Our Whale of a Tale says “Poachers Beware”
Sea Shepherd launched their new anti-poaching boat the ” Ocean Warrior” from Antalya, Turkey last July. She is 175 feet long, the fastest in the Sea Shepherd fleet, with decks large enough for launching helicopters and smaller craft. Her intended destination is the Antarctic to keep an eye on the Japanese fishing fleet that takes whales in violation of the International Court of Justice that outlawed whaling. See other posts on Sea Shepherd’s activities: Sea Shepherd Investigates Illegal Shark Fins Shipments.
“This new ship is a Game Changer” with its faster speed, says Adam Burling of Sea Shepherd Australia. See the entire article in Inverse. To wrap up our whale of a post see what Norway is illegally hunting in our Blue Ocean post: Minke Whales Hunted: Mostly Pregnant Females! Plus these other posts on illegal fishing and poaching: Illegal Fishing On the Hook in 2016.
Also be sure to read our new post on the amazing new marine creatures discovered in the deepest ocean, see:Awesome and a Bit Bizarre Marine Life Discoveries
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