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What Happened Next? We Wish We Knew

Spindle neuron

March 21, 2024


We had a wild time on our Wednesday Mid-Morning Whale Watch from Kawaihae. We got to watch an extremely active competitive pod of Humpbacks for the entire cruise. When the whales are as active as they were this morning, it’s really impossible to count them (at least from the vantage point of the boat), but we think we were watching 7 large adults. These whales were charging around all over the surface always staying between 100 and 300 yards from the boat — except for one time, when a single whale surfaced 50 yards from us, and we saw a LOT of these whales as they were only underwater for about 2 minutes at a time. We witnessed lots of aggressive posturing and shoving, heard a lot of trumpeting as the whales struggled to catch their breath, and saw a few head lunges. Towards the end of our cruise, we saw two breaches too. Did one of these Humpbacks finally “win” the battle? Unfortunately, we’ll never know as we had to head back to the dock before the conflict got resolved.



Ocean Sports Whale Fact of the Day:  Are the Humpbacks we watch so closely each winter watching us too? Researchers have discovered that the brains of many cetaceans, including Humpbacks, contain 3 times as many spindle neurons as are found in humans. What do these neurons do? In humans, spindle neurons (see the photo above) have been observed to be active when the subject is experiencing strong emotions and social awareness…so it’s quite possible that the whales who approach our boats are doing so with intent. Maybe just as we spend our days trying to interpret the reasons behind the whales’ behaviors, the Humpbacks are spending their days trying to figure out why we’re so interested in them!