Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Tis The Season

"Eyes on the road grandma!!" is the chant heard most often this trip as we go holoholo (Hawaiian for wandering) from beach to beach. When the island has one basic main road, and that road is along the coast, and the ocean is teaming with breaching whales... keeping eyes on the road is a tricky task.
Luckily the state of Hawaii is aware of the risks associated with whale season and has kindly created several pull over spots for humpback whale gawkers. And lest you think it'a\s all about the tourists, think again. The locals are experts as spotting our finned friends and their passion for pulling over and staring in awe as these gentle giants put on their show is as fresh and enthusiastic as a first time visitor.
It can be hard, at first, to know what you're looking for. That was a whale? It just looks like a breaking wave, or a shadow on the water?! But your eyes get trained. And Zach has become an ol' pro. "Mommy, a breacher, medium distance from shore, straight ahead!" or "Mommy, double spouts close by, left of the harbor." It reminds me of diving commentators in the summer Olympics. "That was a stunning double pike reverse triple somersault death plunge!"

Here's a cool little chart of whale behavior I found on http://www.napali.com/
BLOW
The normal pattern of exhalation and inhalation at the surface. We also call it a puff or spouting. It looks like a cloud of mist.
FLUKE DIVE
Signals a deep dive. Humpbacks will usually bring its flukes (tail) high above the surface of the water, propelling it straight down. We call it the tail wave or high five.
 
PECTORAL SLAP
The whale rolls to the side, slapping its pectoral fins against the water. We always they the whales are waving hi!
 
SPY HOP
The whale rises vertically to a point where the eyes are above water, then spins on it’s longitudinal axis to get a look at the surrounding area.
 
BREACHING
The whale propels itself out of the water, generally clearing the surface with two-thirds of its body or more, often with a twisting motion. Amazing!

I have yet to capture a breach in a photo. The most amazing one we saw happened at the turtle tidepools. My sweet boy fell and scraped up his knee on the sharp lava rock. He howled so loud that two whales breached at the same time just spitting distance from where we were. Do I click the photo or pull the crying boy off the rocks? Obviously a mom's duty comes first, and the moment will remain in my head. I keep telling Zach to howl like that again to get the whales to breach some more. ;)

There are all sort of tours operations taking folks out to get a closer look. And all sorts of laws set up to protect the whales, espcially since they come here to give birth and the babies are especially vulnerable.
But this is the coolest part of whale season.
This is the Puako General Store. It's tucked in a little residential area, nothing very special, just cold drinks, snacks, sunscreen, and this...
No, not the vodka. Look up. Those speakers are attached to a hydrophone just off shore in the ocean that the University of Hawaii set up. So you can come into the general store, buy an ice cream, and sit and listen to the ancient song of the humpback whales... LIVE! It's is truly awe inspiring. Zach said, "They are having a party because they can go where the humans can't get them." Party on whales!

8 comments:

Tan Family said...

Wow! I learned a lot by reading this post. Zach is getting such an incredible education being on board. I love that little shop with the speakers!

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Party on whales! Love it. Two of my most treasured memories involve whales: whale watching in Japan and a surprise visit by a pod of Orca whales in our "backyard"when we lived in Washington State. There is truly something magical about those amazing creatures. So glad you are having all of these experiences.

Seven C's said...

That is too cool! We saw Humpback whales in passing but nothing spectacular while we were on our passage from Washington to Oregon. The kids were so thrilled. I can only imagine how Zach feels about seeing so many of them.

Joy said...

I miss whale/shark/dolphin watching from living on the coast. Very cool that Zach's developing such a keen sense for ocean life while he's in Hawaii.

Christine said...

such an amazing adventure!!! i love all that you guys are leaning and experiencing. thanks for letting us come along:)

mitzi said...

I just love how you tell a story. Really enjoying your blog.

boatbaby said...

Tan Fam - whales are oh so fascinating to learn about!

DimSum - Oooooo Orcas! Have you read the kids book Davy's Dream? Beautiful tale of Orcas!

7C's - very cool seeing them underway. It would feel intimidating since they out size the boat in every way!

Joy - we need a mama's retreat to the outer banks!

Christine - you can come along any time!

mitzi- thank you for the kind words!

Masasa said...

Zach is having the most incredible childhood. That's awesome. The tale of the two breaching whales is just...breathtaking. It must have been something else!!! (And now I have a different conotation for the word "breach" LOL.)

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