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We’ve Honestly Never Seen Anything Like This

a whale swimming under water

February 23, 2024


I just have to tell you what we witnessed during our Wednesday Pau Hana Sunset Cruise from Kawaihae — just outside of the harbor (a little bit past the channel markers). For almost 45 minutes we watched an Escort Humpback basically attacking a calf. Both Mom and the Escort were pretty big whales, and Mom spent a lot of time trying to get between the Escort and her calf, but she wasn’t always very successful. We watched the Escort head-butt that little calf and a couple of times we even saw him using his big rostrum (head) to launch the baby out of the water. It was really difficult to watch. Eventually a slightly smaller Humpback breached about 200 yards away from all of this activity and then approached our trio. After this fourth whale arrived, everything calmed down — we weren’t sure if the arrival of this new Humpback distracted the Escort allowing Mom to take her baby away, or if this fourth whale began interacting underwater with the primary Escort.

We’ve always known that Humpback calves can get hurt when Escorts are competing for access to their moms…but from everything we’ve observed and everything we’ve ever read, injuries to calves are just collateral injuries. We’ve never observed or read about an Escort intentionally harming a calf, and though obviously we can’t positively attest to our Escort’s intent, it sure appeared to us that he was trying to get that calf completely out of the way. I’m trying to get some video and photos — I’ll post them if I get them.

On Thursday’s Mid-Morning Whale Watch we watched a fairly aggressive competitive pod chase a Mom and her calf around until Mom veered her baby towards shore (see today’s Fact of the Day for more on this). At this point, the male whales headed out to sea where they encountered a single whale (presumably a female). They began following her around (or maybe she was leading them) and we saw a lot of head lunges and peduncle throws and heard lots of loud trumpeting from these hard-breathing whales.



Ocean Sports Whale Fact of the Day: Dr. Alison Craig and her associates observed that female Humpbacks in Hawaii with calves in tow swim 75% faster when they’re being chased by males in deep water than when they’re being chased in shallow water. As water depth decreased so did the number of males following the mother, making females most likely to be found alone with their calves in the shallows. So why is this observation important? Dr. Craig suggests that it is unwanted male attention which causes the females and calves to increase their swimming speed, in turn requiring the mothers to supply their calves with more milk to compensate for the extra energy they’ve used. Since the females aren’t feeding in Hawaii, the researchers theorize that these female Humpbacks are actually seeking shallow water (like we saw happen today) not to avoid predators… but to avoid the energetic consequences of male Humpback sexual harassment!