Reflections on Whales–Part IV

Buddy & Willie Fay Meet a Baby Whale

February 22

Sunrise was spectacular. There were brilliant, fat, vermillion streaks in the eastern sky then that color transferred to small, thin clouds surrounding the moon’s silver sliver. The crescent was surrounded by an amazing brilliant orange whisper of color. Then the illumination of sunrise lit up a cauldron of puffy clouds in an orange, peach, pink, gray mixture of colors and eventually the western sky was alive with color as the east faded to a pale yellow canopy.

I forgot to write about the three whales playing around the mothership late yesterday afternoon. Two members of the crew were scuba diving to check the mooring line and the captain was using the bow thrusters to keep the ship stable. We think perhaps the whales were drawn to the vibration of the thrusters. The provided quite a show of spy-hopping and playing around the divers. After the mooring was secured again, the captain got his drone out and the female whale was very interested in it. She spy-hopped and then pushed up toward the drone as it hovered over her.

Observing the curiosity and interest in human activities by the whales was quite amazing. Because the female spy-hopped so much within ten feet or less of the bow, I was able to capture very detailed photographs of the head with my telephoto lens. In particular the tubercles stood out.

Humpback whale fact: They have between 30 and 60 tubercles around the jaw and within each tubercle is a hair. Thick nerve cells surround the hair and scientists have puzzled over the function. Possibilities include: measure subtle vibrations, track movement of water and prey, measure electromagnetic fields, measure temperature and salinity and aid in their super-agile leaps and spins. These hairy bumps have even inspired wind turbine, airplane wing and propeller designs.

Being so close to curious, intelligent beings that are 45 feet long still makes me smile as I review my journal from two weeks ago. Oh….and then there was the rest of the day.

~~~

I was waiting for one of these whale days. Perhaps the previous afternoon’s encounter was the prelude.

It began with a group of whales. It wasn’t the full-blown pushing and shoving matches I’ve seen, when the males are intently pursuing a female and putting up a good fight for her affection. This was more like relaxed play. After following the four whales and observing from the small boat we received a radio transmission that whales were back at the mothership.

The crew identified the female as the same one that was so inquisitive with the divers and drone. She was even more curious with very close approaches to the motors (not in gear/props off) of the tenders, the stern of the mothership and even us, as we observed. The male patrolled the perimeter and she swam among our groups, nosed the tenders, spy-hopped and generally provided the most incredible display of beauty and trust.

I cropped this image to show her eye

Eye-to-eye contact with cetaceans is always special but there is a profound depth of presence when a humpback offers a glimpse into her mind via her baseball-sized eye.

Finally the male lured his gal from her inquisitive play to rest. As she settled below us to rest, the male continued to patrol. Sometimes he swam below her as she hovered motionless and other times he swam over her back. There was no mistaking (at least to me) they were lovers. And finally they swam off together and disappeared into the blue.

Joy….Joy….JOY!

There is nothing else to say.

 

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