Field season in Australia is underway

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia research program is off to a great start this year. Based out of the town of Hervey Bay, we observe the whales as they migrate along the east coast of Australia, travelling south to their Antarctic feeding grounds. We have had some amazing whale encounters, and we are already starting to see mothers arriving with their calves. Our research staff and volunteers have been going out daily since mid-July to photograph the humpback whales that migrate through the region. The whales in this population mate and have their calves in the tropical areas of northeast Australia and Oceania. The bay is relatively shallow and protected by Fraser Island, offering a nice area for the whales to stop over during their long migration south.

Working from the MV Amaroo operated by the Hervey Bay Boat Club, our researchers take opportunistic identification photos of the underside of the whales’ tail flukes. Since each fluke is unique to the individual, these photos allow us to compare the fluke of each whale we see in the field with our catalog of known whales to determine the history of sightings for each animal. Additionally, the team tries to get photos of the dorsal fins and body of the animal which helps us assess overall body condition as well as any lesions or scars that may indicate injury or poor health. To learn more about our Australian research projects, visit our website. To try your hand at matching fluke photos from our South Pacific catalog, create an account and get started at Match My Whale.

 

A long journey home

Another terrific whale season is almost complete in Hervey Bay, Australia, as Pacific Whale Foundation’s research team come to the tail end of collecting fluke identification and distribution data that will be compiled with 30 years of research in the area.

Southern hemisphere humpback mothers and calves are the last to be spotted as they complete their annual southward migration to the Antarctic feeding grounds. PWF researchers are assimilating data to take back to our research headquarters on Maui, where photographs and findings will be analyzed.

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Expedition down under

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers arrived this week in Hervey Bay, a quaint community in northern Queensland. For the next few months, I will be documenting research efforts and managing our little shop as humpback whales make their annual migration from the subtropic waters of eastern Australia to their feeding grounds of Antarctica. Stephanie Stack, M.Sc. PWF’s Senior Research Biologist and Research Assistant Laura Behm will be photographing flukes and recording data of daily sightings for ongoing research in the area.

Began in 1984, Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia humpback whale research program is the longest running study of this population. The overarching goal of PWF’s research is to advance understanding of humpback whale biology, population status and impacts of human activities on the population. PWF’s Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale ID Catalog is a compilation of 31 seasons of research, combining detailed data on life history, behavior, spatial distribution, and human impacts.

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Whale-sized Fun for Maui Children at Sea!

As a part of our education efforts, every whale season we host numerous school groups participating in our Keiki (Hawaiian for “children”) Whalewatch program. Last week we concluded this season’s program with 1,518 children now having more knowledge about humpback whales.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Keiki Whalewatch program is offered to create an impactful and interactive learning experience for our future generation. It is evident that many children who attend our program have yet to observe a humpback whale. After greeting the children, educators often ask the group, “who has never seen a whale?” Each time, several mini hands launch towards the sky in eager anticipation of the near adventure that will soon change that response. Designed so that children preschool through high school can experience these majestic animals in their natural habitat, Keiki Whalewatches allow children to connect with our marine environment, and for many, to see a whale for the very first time.

Exclusively available to schoolchildren and their teachers and chaperones, participants enjoy a unique 75 minute whalewatch complimented by a playful presentation in our Discovery Center classrooms. Each program is specific to their grade level and offered at a heavily reduced rate. Schools are also invited to apply for additional scholarship support through our No Child Left Indoors (NCLI) program. This year, four schools benefited from the NCLI program receiving a total of $1,159 in scholarship support to subsidize some of the field trip costs.

We want to thank all of our Members, volunteers, staff, and other supporters who help make it possible for the children to experience this fun and fact-filled, learning excursion. We also extend great appreciation to the schools who work hard to give their children these extraordinary educational experiences. Mahalo to Kamehameha Schools, Paia School, Kamaliʻi Elementary, Lokelani Intermediate, Wailuku Union  Preschool, Makawao B Headstart, Smart Start Christian School, Haiku Elementary, Peaceful Parent Happy Child, Kihei Elementary, Waiheʻe Elementary, Kula Elementary, Saint Anthony School, Waiheʻe Elementary, Children’s Garden Preschool, Christian Homeschool Co-op, Storybook School, Montessori of Maui, Wailuku Elementary, Princess Nahienaena Elementary, Lihikai Elementary, as well as our local home school groups.

Whale done, everyone! We had a great time and look forward to “sea-ing” you next year.

 

Promising partnership in Guatemala

Whalewatching continues to grow globally with new markets emerging. Guatemala is the latest country seeking to develop whale watch operations off its Pacific coast focusing on the annual migration of humpback whales that migrate through their waters December through June. The humpbacks are thought to be en route to/from their breeding and calving grounds off Costa Rica, and likely spend their summer months feeding near central California northward to BC, Canada.

Greg Kaufman, founder of Pacific Whale Foundation recently traveled to the small coastal community of Montericco, Guatemala — best known for its 20km- long nature reserve of coast and coastal mangrove wetlands — to speak with tour operators about whalewatching and learn first-hand their challenges and whale observations.

The department of tourism, INGUAT, reached out to Kaufman for advice on this new developing industry. They stressed the importance of wanting to take a scientific approach to cultivate sustainable tourism in the area. Kaufman shared his thoughts on regulation and responsible practices.

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Mugged on the first Ultimate Whalewatch of 2015

On January 13th, the research team ran the first Ultimate Whalewatch cruise of the 2014/2015 whale season. Mother Nature was on our side that day, with perfect calm weather conditions.

Over the past week or so, the research team had been sighting more and more humpback whales in Ma’alaea Bay, including mother-calf pairs, so our 30 guests were in for a good whalewatch trip on Ocean Liberty.

As expected, a few whale pods were sighted a few minutes into the trip. At a later stage, we were even spoiled for choice, with whales left, right and center. Captain Curtis decided to follow one of the competition pods that displayed a lot of surface activity, very close to Ma’alaea Harbor and Sugar Beach. That decision paid off.

Over time, the number of escorts dwindled down from five to just two. At one point, one of the adults, presumed to be the female in the original pod, approached the vessel so close that, when it exhaled, the blow hit a few passengers. The whale then slowly swam under the vessel, giving everyone on board enough time to admire the sheer size of this animal. What a great photo opportunity that was.

In Hawai’i, any vessel must wait until a pod is further than 100 yards before being able to move. This particular individual approached the vessel several times, repeating the same behavior, to the delight of passengers and crew. This is called mugging. Although mugging tends to be observed more in Hervey Bay, Australia, than in Maui, this season it seems that more and more vessels are getting mugged by humpback whales. Being mugged by a whale was a new and unique experience for passengers and some members of the crew. For others, over 30 minutes was a new record. No one seemed to mind that we were running late to get back to the harbor.

Let’s hope that this incredible experience is a good omen for the rest of the whale season! If you are on Maui before mid-April, please come and join us on an Ultimate Whalewatch eco-cruise.