Over the past month and a half, I have shared many experiences and thoughts from my time with the humpback whales here on Maui. Some of my blogs recalled ecstatic and heart-pounding encounters, some mused on the endlessly inspiring quest for knowledge, and some emphasized an earnest hope for the future, what we may accomplish and uncover.
Yesterday was my last day of the season with the Hawaii Whale Research Foundation, and I could not have hoped for a more impressive finale. We spent the entire morning tracking a large active competitive group, full of exciting surface activity, sudden chases and collisions between males. The group was travelling rapidly, and took us all the way to Molokai before we turned back towards Maui. We had been experiencing a constant light, drizzling rain, which reminded me curiously of back home in Tofino, and most were ready to finish the day by the time we drew near the harbour. However, it was still reasonably early, and many were determined to provide me with an unforgettable last encounter, so we decided to approach a mother, calf, and escort group which had been pec-slapping and splashing around nearby.
At first the group seemed evasive, retreating each time we made an approach, but suddenly they began to pause and circle near the surface. I was granted the opportunity to join our diver underwater, and quietly slipped into the deep blue water with a familiar mixture of glee and anticipation. What met my eyes was an engaging and moving scene, as the calf circled around and under it’s motionless mother, within clear sight just 30 ft below. Time and time again we watched as the calf dove down to sit close beneath it’s mother’s belly, occasionally peeking up at us from underneath her pectoral fin. Then, it would detach itself and rise alone to the surface, passing close by us each time to curiously evaluate it’s new company. Each time the calf came close a bubble of glee threatened to escape from my throat, as I felt an indescribable connection with this enormous yet youthfully innocent creature.
Throughout this encounter the escort was also hanging suspended, but curiously enough, he was singing non-stop, on the far side of the mother from us. Typically both the mother and escort are much more protective of the relatively defenseless calf, but amazingly both of them were completely tolerant of our presence. After a period of about 20 minutes, the entire group would slowly rise and breathe together, and then dive back down to resume their resting state. We continued to observe this scene for nearly an hour, and despite the fact that my entire body was shaking from the cool water, and I was beginning to feel the sting of numerous jellyfish cells, I was still reluctant to climb back onto the boat when we were called in. It is exceptionally rare to see such a cooperative group, and I would like to think that the whales were favouring me with one last epic memory of my time here.
My second season with HWRF has revealed the truly endless opportunities for delight and discovery that exist in the world of humpback whales, and has inspired me to bring my renewed enthusiasm and insight back to my work as lead naturalist with West Coast Aquatic Safaris. I am endlessly grateful for the opportunities I have been granted, and wish to make use of this gift by sharing the endless wonders of the natural world with all guests aboard our tours. I hope to see you out on the water!