Saturday, October 11, 2014

Humpback Whales in HD -- Maui Whale Watch

Everybody loves whales, right?  Well, except for the Japanese:

That's kind of a quote, not hyperbole (see the below video!)

Whales are majestic peaceful creatures, amazing to see up close.  I mean, let's face it, one of the BEST Star Trek Movies involved Humpback Whales.  Just LOOK at those two old beasts (and the whales behind them):

Looks otherworldly, right?  (Talking about Shatner's hairpiece, not the whales)

While visiting Maui last winter, I had a pretty epic Whale Watch.  During previous trips to Maui, my whale watch trips usually involve a boat just slightly larger than a Coast Guard cutter, which means we are nowhere NEAR any whales we see, and people jockey like crazy to get just the right angle. 

This past trip, however, I was was lucky enough to go out on a VERY small craft, with less than a dozen people on it.  Here's a pic (I think the craft's name, "Great White," is Pidgin Hawaiian meaning "easily punctured.").

After the pre-launch safety briefing ("don't fall off") was done, it was time to go.  I was VERY self-conscious about being By-Himself-Guy, so I did what I do best:  Blather.  On, and on.  Fortunately, I blathered to just the right people, each of whom, like me, had checked into the dock/boat on FourSquare, so we "met" each other.

The people I met turned out to be a fantastic couple. The guy reminded me a lot of Matthew Lillard; he was tall, had a great laugh, and was both very sharp and friendly.  I don't have a specific celebrity for his wife, but she was kind, friendly, yet had this badass aura to her, which for some reason really reminded me of Liz Phair.  I'm a Liz Phan, so that's a good thing, even if she and Liz don't necessarily resemble each other.  They were both athletic, and very enthusiastic about this trip.  It was almost like they WEREN'T expecting to get upended and reduced to chum (SHUT UP IT COULD HAPPEN).

They had GoPro cameras with them, and made some amazing videos of the "whale fight" (I'll get to what I mean by that) going on underneath/around our little raft, and uploaded the videos.  While I was making sure at all times I had one entire LEG attached to the benches of the craft, they were hanging off the sides at times, getting shot after shot, and epic video footage, seemingly oblivious that we were in the middle of the ocean without a tiki bar in walkable reach.

Now, with their permission, two of their videos in this blog are here for you to watch, along with some photos we all took.  But first, let me tell you what you're going to see:

Cast of Characters:

1.  Some fatass in a Washington Nationals shirt (um, hi)
2.  Our friendly Denver Couple
3.  A very vocal couple at the front of the boat, who'd been out a day or two earlier
4.  Our Captain Leanne, a fantastically fun lady who knew exactly where to take us
5.  Her deckhand, who was also a marine biologist (Dr. Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation) who was absolutely losing his shit over what we were seeing.

6.  A nice lady named Melissa, who somehow got a hold of a plastic model of a humpback whale, and tended to just lean over the side while the whales fought, holding it in the water (note: you can see her do this below in the "long" video around the 5:40 mark).  I'm not sure if Melissa (the lady) thought the whales were going to spot it, and swim over to it.  (I mean, if they DID, they might think we'd shellacked some whale embryo with a coating of plastic, which could SERIOUSLY piss them off)

That's it.  8 (eight!) people on a little boat.  When we got out there, there were literally more whales around us than there were people on the dingy boat.


Runners don't look like krill, right?
What happened:

It's fair to say that when I woke up that morning, I'd never used, much less heard the term, "Whale Menstruation."  It was discussed a LOT on this trip (well, it was mentioned at least 2-3 times), after which I think I blacked out, or just kind of went numb to the discussion of whale vaginas and the Things They Do.  Dr. Fred was particularly interested in any of us spotting (ha!) "Menstrual Plume," which sounds like the WORST Yellowstone Park visit EVER.

Anyway, there was a female whale, whom we later named "Melissa," (after our fearless embryo-wielder) and she was, according Dr. Fred, possibly experiencing a visit from the equivalent of Whale Aunt Flo.  Whatever was going on, this brought many MANY male whales around.  What do male whales do when a female whale is, um, (metaphorically) craving chocolate and crying a lot?  They fight.

Dr. Fred called this "a cage match."  The whales would bump into each other, do something called "jaw claps" (where they bring their head out of the water and vigorously open/close their mouths, but also blow bubbles while they're in/out of the water.  I have some of this on a couple of Instagram videos, but the males were being ROUGH with each other, at least as far as whales go.  In this video I shot, at roughly the halfway point, you see one of them with his head out of the water, clapping his jaws and blowing bubbles.

Hint -- you can see more of videos and pics at my Instagram account -- I promise if you follow me, there will be no sephia-filtered pictures of food!

So, what did Melissa (the whale) do?  Easy.  She found a shield.


As in, she went and hung out UNDER our inflatable raft boat.

This prompted the males to circle our raft and fight.  Generally, they bumped, slapped, and otherwise just made a lot of noise towards each other, doing the WORST peacock imitations ever (or the best they could do, considering their lack of feathers, and weighing 8,000 times more than the colorful birdies).

How close were they?


That's part of our raft in the lower right corner.

(Not pictured:  Tai absolutely crapping himself)
Periodically, Melissa (still talking about the whale, not the lady) would poke her head above the water, performing what is called a "Spy Hop," or just "blow" her whale snot spray at us.  The misty water (this is true) often caused a rainbow to form in her exhaled water spray.  Because, as we decided, NOBODY WOULD BELIEVE THIS WAS HAPPENING.  Then she would dive back under our raft:

Anyway, the producers of these videos, our Denver pair of "Matthew and Liz" were EXTREMELY adept at getting shots.  Matthew would lean into the water, plunging his arm/camera into the warm Hawaiian water to get some of these shots, while Liz was standing HOLY SHIT UP ON THE THING OR WHATEVER THAT THING IS GET DOWN FROM THERE HOLY SHIT.  Meanwhile, I'm holding my iPhone up like a dork, proud of myself for shooting video in Landscape instead of Portrait mode.

Ok, let's get to their HD videos.  They made two.  The first is their "best of" portion of the whale watch trip:

This next video, if you REALLY love you some humpback whales, is the full version of the whale watch trip until their battery died.  I'm (surprise!) wearing my red Washington Nationals shirt, and wearing my Road ID in case we capsized and I had to swim back to Maui (or Molokai if it seemed closer): 

An epic fun day.  

People would almost never believe it happened, but thanks to these two videos, we have a leg (fin?) up on proving what happened out there on a low-populated winter afternoon off the coast of Maui.  And now we've all had the opportunity to discuss whale menstruation.


  1. I read this when I need a good laugh. I love your writing style! Plus, it brings back all the fun memories of our boat trip.

    1. Kira! Thank you so much to you and Tyson for providing the videos! Seriously a lifetime highlight. And really happy for you both with the new addition! You guys are going to be great parents. :)

    2. I realize, technically, you are ALREADY parents, but work with me here, it's been a crazy two days and I'm sleep deprived, haha.