Whales May Surface Suddenly Ahead of Your Vessel

Humbpack statue
Is that a...yes, I think it is.

I have this thing about whales.

They’re awesome.

I saw them in the wild for the first time from a dive boat in Coffs Harbour, Australia and was absolutely gobsmacked. Here they were, swimming alongside our boat, doing their whale things like diving and shooting bursts of air from their blowholes.

When my mom and sisters came to visit me in Coffs, we took a whale watch cruise. A rogue young humpback took a liking to the boat, and put on an impressive performance only a few metres away. He breached, slapped his tail, waved his fins and generally awed his audience for a good fifteen minutes.

Jared surprised me with another whale watch in Port Stephens, Australia, a few years ago, which only made me want more.

In Hawaii, I got my wish. My sister Kate is seriously into whales, so she immediately booked us a whale watch in Lahaina, Maui with the Pacific Whale Foundation.

Kate's whale
Kate drew this. Pretty magical, right? Photo by Kate Fitzpatrick

The Pacific Whale Foundation guarantees that you will see a whale between November 26th and May 15th. Guarantees it. I was primed for success.

Pacific Whale Foundation
Check-in at the shop, where they also give you FREE sunscreen. Score.

True to their word, we spotted a baby whale while we were still in the harbour. Our marine biologist guide, also named Lauren, gave us some whale data over the microphone as we oohed and aahed.

“Now this baby whale is doing what we call a spy hop, just coming to the surface to see what’s going on.”

baby humpback in Lahaina
Hoppin' away. Photo by Kate Fitzpatrick

We cooed at his cleverness. Then Lauren smacked us with the brutal truth.

“Sadly,” she continued, in a voice that indicated she wasn’t sad at all, “One in four baby whales you see today won’t live to become an adult. You might want to cover your ears if you’re sensitive, but yes, that means 25% of them die.”

I missed her reasoning, because my sisters and I were too busy mocking her insensitive delivery to listen.

“In case you missed it, that baby whale is going to DIE,” Kate said.

“Just so we’re clear, he’ll be floating belly up pretty soon,” Megan added.

We didn’t have much time to admire the baby as he frolicked because our captain was all business, putting the boat at full speed ahead. We slowed temporarily for several pods of humpbacks, but didn’t stay long.

Whale fluke
Lauren reminded us that this isn't a tail. It's a fluke. Photo by Kate Fitzpatrick

As we sped past the whales, Lauren talked at length about the humpbacks over the loudspeaker.

“You might notice that you can actually see the whales’ vertebrae,” she said, “they’re on the way up to their feeding grounds in Alaska, where they can fatten up again. Unfortunately, not all of the babies are going to make it.”

“WE KNOW,” shouted my sisters.

“What is up with the captain?” I said. “I thought we were here to see the whales, not sail past them.”

The captain was quickly redeemed.

“Ah, folks, this is your captain speaking,” she said over the loudspeaker. “Sorry about going so fast, but I got word that there was some action up here near the island of Lana’i.”

Everyone fell silent.

“At 1 o’clock, we’ve got a couple of humpbacks being tailed by a research boat. But if you look at about 10 o’clock, there’s a pod of approximately 250 spinner dolphins, and they’re making their way directly towards us.”

Spinner dolphin fins
A small sample of the dolphin explosion. Photo by Kate Fitzpatrick

The atmosphere on the boat shifted to one of crackling excitement. We all scrambled around like headless chickens, looking for the best possible vantage point. The extra-keen passengers prepared their super-long-range telephoto lenses, which apparently even children own these days.

Hundreds of dolphins swept into our path, launching themselves into the air like slippery torpedoes before slicing nose-first back through the water.

Spinner dolphin leaping out of the water
Spinner dolphin, doing his thing. Photo by Kate Fitzpatrick

The entire boat was suitably impressed.

Even Lauren was speechless, sort of.

“I’m speechless,” she said, before launching into another monologue. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Folks, this doesn’t usually happen here. It’s pretty rare that we see this many spinner dolphins on a cruise.”

The captain turned off the engines so Lauren & the crew could lower the hydrophone, an underwater microphone. We listened to the screeches of echolocating dolphins, peppered by the low tones of humpback whales.

Completely and utterly satisfied, we settled down for the cruise back to the harbour. To top it off, I got a ginger ale – good for queasy stomachs and impossible to find in Yeongwol.

Chalk this one up as a success, even if one of those baby whales does bite it in the next year.

Collision Hazard
If the posted lookout fails, he will suffer the consequences.


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    1. I think I am the least funny of the three of us! And it was awesome. I’ve done it three times and I don’t think that will be my last.

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