Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The perfect day

was yesterday, not only was the weather wonderful and I was on the boat with my husband, but the whales were just stunning.

We came across the mother and calf and after 2 x 10 minute swims she settled in for a 47 minute encounter, allowing the calf to come up every 5 minutes to play on the surface. The mother, rested just below at around 45ft and would lay on the surface for her breathing cycle with us. These encounters are not to be expected everyday and the guests on the boat were treated to a wonderful encounter. After spending our time with her, she was left alone for a 1.5 hour break in which time she can nurse the calf or swim off.

What a beautiful mother and calf. Enjoy the photos, the smile on my face says it all and so nice to have my camera by my side.

© Karen stone 2011

© Karen Stone 2011

© Karen Stone 2011

© Karen Stone 2011

© Karen Stone 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A fighting mother and a calm calf..

Yesterday, we came across a mother, calf and escort on the first part of our trip, as we began to look at their behaviours all three seemed to be very calm and approachable.

As the boat was still approx 80m away, the mother made a huge turn and dove under the escort. She then came up under the escort and a huge fight between the two escalated. The calf sensing some danger, seemed lost and swam over to where we were on its own.

This becomes a very worrisome time, as 3 years prior a mother abandoned her calf to another boat, when a group of males distracted her away. There was a happy ending as operators banded together and returned the calf to its mother. (Not something anyone wants repeated here). Seeing as the calf had made a beeline to us, we felt sure that the mother would return and she suddenly appeared with the escort about 40m away and the calf returned to her.

However the fight was not over, the mother with the calf swimming just in front of her now, continued to ram and tail swipe the escort. This can be seen as a behaviour between males in the rowdy/heat runs, which occur in order for mating to happen. (See next post for more information).

We did not try and engage the whales any further, when behaviours such as these occur there is some inbalance between the natural escorting of the mother and calf. This was the first time I have seen a female attack and control an escort in such a manner.

Female and escort fighting
It was fascinating to watch from a distance and we left scratching our heads as to why the mother had reacted in such a way.........

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whale Season 2011 - So far

Singer © Karen Stone 2011
The season of 2011 has been good so far, despite some very windy weather in August. Our groups and guests have had amazing days both above and below the water.

2010 was a very different season up here, with less adult whales and activity around. The water temperatures of 2010 stayed 2 degrees above what they normally are and a lot of the adult whales stayed in the cooler waters down south.

2011 started in early July, sightings were confirmed and a mother and calf were spotted around mid-July. August had a few slow days with some wet and miserable weather, but despite this there were also some very good encounters. The water temperature whilst still a little warmer than 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 is cooler than 2010 which is a good thing.

One of the things we noticed in early August again was the lack of large heat runs or rowdy groups, with the most whales involved recorded by us was 8. In 2008 and 2009, we were seeing very large heat runs with 11-14 whales involved. The heat runs are excellent to watch with the surface activity as the female winds up the males who challenge each other for the suitor.

Still in September we are seeing weak heat runs, lazy in their paths, but good to jump in the water with on occasion. The one thing that has been noticeable through out August and September so far is the amount of couples that are hanging around together, even when the male is singing there have on 4 occasions been another whale with him. Challenges from other males have been made, but have soon fizzled off with out much build up.

Female attracting attention © Karen Stone 2011
The females must be getting wound up as some have definitely had more interest in the boat than in the males around her.
Heat run action © Karen Stone 2011

Full moon this past weekend started with heavy rains late on Saturday, but by Monday the weather was flat calm. Many people always state that whales breach more in wind than on flat days, I never could quite fathom why as the wind does not aid them in the breach. Monday, flat calm and every whale we came across was breaching. 6 couples all doing exactly the same behaviours. Strange, yes indeed.

Calm days have also been enjoyable for bird and fish activity with the noddies and the terns all over the place. Not the greatest picture below but that is a tuna jumping!!!!The frigates have also been acting peculiar fighting each other and chasing after the smaller sea birds when they have no food. A good bird spot last week was the flock of Shearwaters in North Bay.

 We will be continually updating our data as the season runs its last 5 weeks, the success of the fluke id's this year has been great with 43 collected so far by both myself and guests. Thanks guys.

We have some good recording of the 2011 song, which we will put up on here soon. Internet is just a wee bit slow right now, in fact this post may not be able to go through, so with that in mind. I shall return with more info soon.........

Saturday, September 10, 2011

February 2012 - Excitement

Though I am not one to wish time would pass quicker, I can not wait for February next year to come around. Why? Travel, my husband has booked a surprise 6 week trip, focusing on hot and cold climates, nature and culture, water and land. Where are we going? I have no idea yet. The only things I have been told is to pack for everything.

The challenge in that is we live in a tropical setting, the only cold clothes I have are for snowboarding which we tried this year in Utah and loved.

Do I want to know where we are going? No for a person that normally hates surprises, I am enjoying this one. 2011 has been an exceptionally hard year for us personally with us spending many months apart due to Paul's mom's illness. There are more trying months to come before the end of 2011, Paul will be leaving soon to return to Charlotte, as we wrap up the whale season here.

So yes excited I am. Planning what camera gear to take with me, what weather conditions we might come up against, and the building feeling of change and travel again is overwhelming.

Enjoying the snow in Utah February 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pseudorca crassidens

© Karen Stone 2011

The Humpback whales here are always amazing, but occasionally a species turns up that tears you away. The Pseudorca is one of them, part of the dolphin family, smaller than a pilot whale, but more intensive. They as Pseudorca hunt other whales, as we got into the water, a bull that had been jumping by the side of our boat, swung back around and gave me a good ping, trying to figure out what we are. Their pings hurt, it lasted in my chest bone for over 20 minutes. The juveniles as seen in the picture above gave us a wonderful pass, showing their teeth and staying 5m below us for over a minute.

Paul did a fabulous job of driving, judging the speed and getting us in the water. The guests were blown away by swimming with a different species, after so many good swims with the humpabacks in the last two days.