Breaching Whales

Humpback breaching

One of the reasons I love Maui in February is the return of the humpback whales to their mating and birthing grounds. It is such a celebratory time, as boatloads of tourists revel in the spectacle of thousands of whales frolicking, singing, taking care of their babies and… breaching.

I have witnessed these giants of the sea come back from near annihilation to their current far healthier state. The humpback whales we see in Maui are from the north Pacific stock. They migrate from Alaska over 3,000 miles each winter to spend time in Hawaiian waters, mostly off Maui. They fatten up in Alaska, but while here the adults do not eat at all. The babies fatten on their mother’s 50% fat milk and they can be seen nudging their mothers throughout the day to nurse.

What most tourists love most is to witness whales breaching, a term used to describe the act of exploding from the water and being airborne for a few seconds, before gravity lowers the boom and plunges their great bulk back into the ocean.

Now, what I love most about the breaching is watching the newborn humpbacks try to imitate the adults. There are times when the attempts are so earnest, or awkward, you just have to laugh.

This week I cruised with the Pacific Whale Foundation and saw lots of breaching activity. In the lead image, you see a female breaching in beautiful form. I’d rate it a 9.8.

For 30 minutes we watched its newborn try to emulate Mom. His (or her) first attempts were pretty pathetic.

valiant attempt

But after a while it began to get the idea and with each breach it improved. I’d have to give this one an 8.5 in the Junior Breaching Olympics.

I’m sure Mom reminded baby that practice makes prefect.

still trying

And finally, baby scores big!


If you are looking for tips on how to photograph whales, click here.

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