For a humpback, the purpose for this exciting display of power is not completely understood, but there are some interesting suggestions. Young whales likely breach as a form of play or to develop their muscles. The whales actions are a learned behavior, which would make sense when you see the mother breach with the calf following many times over. Adults likely breach in certain circumstances to transmit a message to members of their group. In fact, as breaching requires a significant amount of energy, a whale may breach to demonstrate its physical abilities; a very convincing signal. Less often, it seems that there are other explanations for breaching. It could be a technique to help cetaceans feed by stunning or scaring prey. It could be a good way of getting rid of external parasites. It could also be a method for inhaling water-free air in rough weather. Who knows? What is certain is that this behaviour is spectacular for those observing it from the surface.
Each winter the North Pacific Humpack Whales migrate to the tropical waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands from the cold waters of Alaska. Here they breed, calve and nurse their young. They are the fifth largest in the family of whales with a mature Humpback usually between 43 to 45 ft. long and weighing around 90,000 pounds. At birth, they weigh an average of 1.5 tons and are usually 10-16 ft. in length. They grow very fast and nearly double their length during their first year. Baby humpacks will be nursed for nearly 6 months with mother’s milk that’s almost 50% fat. The number of Humpacks in Hawaiian waters is increasing significantly every year. Up until 1996 they were hunted into near extinction, with the count thought to be less than 1,500. That year the International Whaling Commission introduced a ban on commercial humpback whaling. Current counts indicate that there are now 18,000-20,000 of the North Pacific Humpback Whales. In our area we will see anywhere from 5,000-7,000 throughout the season!
There’s its diet, which consists primarily of algae taken from pieces coral ripped from a reef with their tusk-like teeth that are fused together forming a beak, hence the “parrot fish”. The coral is ground down with their teeth in the fishes’ throats and made into sand. Much of the sand in the parrot fish’s range is actually the ground-up, undigested coral they excrete. There’s its gender, which they can change repeatedly throughout their lives, and their coloration and patterns, which are absolutely amazing and vary greatly, even between the males, females, and juveniles of the same species.
Finally, there are the pajamas. Every night, certain species of parrot fish envelope themselves in a transparent cocoon made of mucous secreted from an organ on their head. Scientists think the cocoon masks their scent, making them harder for nocturnal predators, like moray eels, to find.
One of our frequent snorkel spots, other then Molokini Crater, on the Maui Magic Am Snorkel Trip is called Turtle Arches. This location gets it’s name for it’s amazing coral formations that are shaped like arches. We visit this location to see the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, beautiful coral, and heaps of fish!
The Spotted Eagle Ray can be found in shallow coastal waters and bays, in depths down to 260 ft. They can be found globally in tropical regions, including the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, Atlantic Africa, Indian Ocean, and the Pacific West Coast. The spotted eagle ray can be identified by its numerous white ringed spots on its blue dorsal surface, white ventral surface, long, whip-like tail, and distinctive head that somewhat resembles a bill. It’s food includes, shrimps, crabs, whelks, and other small creatures . The largest eagle rays get up to 10 ft wide and weigh up to 500lbs.
We spotted some False Killer Whales in Maalaea Bay. What a treat? They are the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family and they live in temperate and tropical waters throughout the world. As its name implies, the false killer whale shares characteristics, such as appearance, with the more widely known Orca or Killer Whale. These whales tend to form strong social bonds and are usually found in groups of ten to twenty. They are a very rare sighting as their numbers have been declining over the years. Researchers estimate that there are less then 300 left in Hawaiian waters.
We say farewell for now to our friends from up north, as they travel back to the Alaskan waters to fill their belly’s with krill. They have astounded us yet again this winter, with their graceful and joyful behavior. We had another tremendous whale season here in Maalaea Bay, with both the Four Winds II and the Maui Magic having some of the best whale shows we have ever seen. We are always sad to see them go. Fortunately for us, they’ll be back in November for more fun in the warm Hawaiian waters.
There are over 80 species of surgeonfish worldwide with 25 of these varieties living in Hawaiian waters. Although they come in many different color variations, they all share the same basic structure. The name “surgeonfish” comes from their hard spines at the base of their tail. They have one spine on each side of their body that lies flat in a groove until the fish is provoked. In times of danger, a surgeonfish will flip its tail and the spines pop out like small knives. They resemble a surgeons’ scalpel, thus the name surgeonfish. The Orangeband Surgeonfish is quickly recognized by its orange spot or band, but it also goes through a fascinating color change as it matures. As a juvenile is solid yellow with just the slightest hint of blue edging the anal and dorsal fins. The adult looks quite different. The front half of a mature specimen (in this picture) is a light gray and the back half is a dark gray. In each case it still retains its shoulder marking, but the orange spot does becomes more brilliant with age. Surgeonfish are herbivores and reside in the shallow waters of the coral reef. They feed on algae, so look for them near rocks that get a lot of filtered sunlight. The Orangeband variety swim in schools along the sandy ocean floor and eat the scraps from other fish. They are like the garbage men of the region.
We went snorkeling at Olowalu on the Maui Magic the other day, and came across a bunch of turtles. We call it a cleaning station because the turtles hang out around here to get their shells cleaned off by the fish.
Can you spot how many turtles are in this picture?
There are actually 4! If you look just above and to the right of the turtle on the far left, there is one hanging out in the coral.
He startled me when I dove down to take a closer picture of the one in the sand! It was a really fun day with the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles!
This Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle was hanging out on the ocean floor at Turtle Arches. Turtle Arches is one of our 2nd snorkel spots on the Maui Magic. We will usually come here after snorkeling in Molokini Crater to spend some time with the adorable turtles. This big guy stayed down there for a good 20 minutes, just chilling out!