Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Whale of a Show!

On the way to Ile des Pins, we had a fabulous whale experience! Fortunately, not one of those horror stories of bumping into a sleeping whale or having one breach on top of the boat!

It was a personal whale watching experience – and my video shows some of it, if you can stand to watch it. It is hard to hold it still and stay focused on something so far away when you are bouncing in the waves. So I apologize in advance, for the not so clear photos and video (if I can get it to upload on this blog). I even felt seasick trying to edit it!

We were sailing along just enjoying a nice ride to Ile des Pins when I said, “Dennis, there is a dark colored power boat crossing our path at about 10 o’clock (boat position based on the bow being 12 o’clock).  And it is moving very fast!”

Then suddenly I saw it do the tail splash! Actually, I saw three tails up and then down. I don’t know how many whales were there. It may have been one just playing or a couple of them. For the next 20-30 minutes, we were treated to a playful sight of fin slapping, diving and what appeared to be frolicking!

We still aren’t sure how many whales or what kind. We saw many flashes of fins that appeared to be black on one side and white on the other. It was as if they were just slapping the water and having fun. Or maybe it was trying to fight off a predator. We will never know for sure.
It looked like it could have been a couple of Orcas, which are really sharks. Apparently, Orcas are known to gang up on a whale, grasp it by the lips and eat its tongue. They can’t eat the huge whale so they eat the part they can to disable it. Then the whale dies because it cannot eat! Yuk! I sure hope that is not what we were observing.
This is one of the Orcas we saw in New Zealand.
Actually, now that I look at our photos of the Orcas in Kaikoura, New Zealand, I don't think it was an Orca. The whale was dark grey and much larger than an Orca. And when I watch the video and see it come out of the water, I am more sure that it is a Humpback and probably only one.

Someone suggested that there may have been three whales and two were mating. Apparently, a third whale is needed to hold the female on her side. It is mating season here as the whales will begin their migration to New Zealand and Antarctica soon. Then they will return here next year to give birth and raise their young until it is time to head south again. It is quite a long journey, too.

Who knows what we were witnessing, but it was exciting to spot and follow the whale(s) on our own. I had recently said I had only seen a couple of blows from a distance, but never seen the whale. Now I have! Wow! What an experience! (Hopefully, I have figured out how to trim and upload a video. Let's see if it works!)

Before I started this blog post, I found a few websites about humpback whales. I learned a lot of interesting information which I will highlight below. At least now I feel we were watching one or possibly two whales having some playful fun in the sun. What a delightful experience! 
Whale facts - or whatever you can believe from the Internet findings:
There are two kinds of splashing activity that goes on: tail slapping and pectoral fin slapping. Both create a big splash as water is displaced by the weight of this huge creature. A fully grown male Humpback whale can reach 48 feet in length and weigh as much as 45 tons. That would make a huge splash!

Even though they are huge creatures, whales have a
number of predators: Orcas, Giant Squid, etc.
The male Humpback whale likes to play by twisting and turning and slapping the water with the fins or by raising a large portion of his body out of the water and smashing down on it. There are good reasons besides having fun: relieve themselves of parasites, such as the type of sucker shark that suction onto the whale's body to eat and ride, and to ward off predators by making noise and disturbance in the water.
Mothers also teach the calves to breach and they are known to practice for long periods. It is possible that we witnessed a lesson and practice session.
There are different moves when breaching. A true breach means that at least three quarters of the whale's body is out of the water before splashing back down. A whale can also come out of the water backwards by flinging its pectoral fins. They do twists and turns will airborne.

This is the one I bought. It is made from paua - the
shell of the Abalone. I love the colors of paua. Both
the fish hook and whale's tail are good luck for sailors.
Interestingly, if a whale is breaching to distract a predator, it may come out of the water with its belly down. By arching its head backward and then slamming it forward, the body makes a loud resonating sound when it hits the water. Since sound is amplified underwater, the intent is to scare off the predator. Pectoral fin slapping is also a form of communication to let other whales know it is in the area.

Tail slapping has several functions. It is helpful in trying  to remove things that have attached to the whale, such as barnacles, sea lice and parasites. Apparently, tail slapping is also a form of entertainment. Obviously, it is what whale watching tourists hope to see, but the whale does it to entertain itself! Sometimes two whales will try to out slap each other for fun!

Bone is commonly carved.
For the Humpback Whale, the tail is like a human fingerprint in that it is unique to that creature. Researchers identify whales by their tail marks and also by their unique dorsal fins. This is how they track the movement of whales throughout the oceans from season to season. Whales are migratory.
The Humpback's tail can be massive and provides the thrust when the whale is swimming. Unfortunately, predators often attack the tail and nip and bite the pectoral fins to try to immobilize the whale. With the predators' continuing persistence, the damage caused can disable the whale so it is unable to swim; then it will drown. Once the whale is dead, the predators feast in peace without danger to themselves! Orcas, a.k.a. Great White Shark, are serious predators, often leaving teeth markings on the whale's body.

The whale's tail is commonly used for advertising and as logos in the tourism industry. It is also very popular in jewelry design due to its spiritual meaning in many Melanesian cultures. Some of the designs are stunning. And they are done in various materials: bone, shell, dead coral, wood, paua, greenstone and other hard materials, including plastic which have been mass produced in molds in China (yuck!). The locals do not use chains, but hang them from cords of varying fibers. They say their "gold" is the carving itself and doesn't need a gold or silver chain. Nice thought!

The islanders wear the whale's tail as symbols of goodness. It has a number of meanings that vary from culture to culture and country to country, but they are all positive meanings: 1) a symbol of good luck, 2) it represents speed and strength, and 3) a symbol of freedom, strength and joy within a beautiful spirit.

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