Wildlife The pod had split in two and five whales had formed a line, all facing towards land. They began to beat the water with their tail flukes at the same time, and at first I thought it to be some form of communication, but then I spotted a number of silver flashes. The whales were driving what appeared to be a large school of herring away from them. Then Irene spotted the other half of the pod about a quarter mile away in a perpendicular line to their companions. They were just lying on the surface with open mouths and the frantic herring were rushing headlong into them. All the whales had to do was swallow. We watched this for several minutes when the lob-tailing suddenly ended abruptly and we figured the whales had eaten their fill. They had indeed, but only half the pod. At this point the whales that were first feeding now turned their tails towards the rest of the pod and began to lob-tail just as their companions had done, driving the schooling fish back towards the original whales who were now feeding as fast as the fish could swim. Once both halves of the pod had fed, they dispersed in several directions, apparently having come together only long enough to hunt as a solid unit. I wrote and published the story in a kayaking magazine asking for anyone who had witnessed such behavior to please contact me. To this day, no one has. To me, this behavior was proof of an advanced thought process, and in my mind it placed the humpback almost on an intellectual par with the orca, whom I had always thought to be the most intelligent animal on earth, smarter than chimpanzees and dogs. Another encounter I wish to relate took place on a small commercial whale watching boat out of Ventura in California. We were approaching Santa Cruz Island in late September, a good time for viewing humpbacks off the California coast as the Santa Barbara channel had been full of them all summer. We spotted three humpbacks breaching far off in the distance. Since nothing else was happening at the moment we decided to take off in hopes that they might just keep it up until we arrived. Naturally they did not. 24
A humpback rises to the surface with its mouth open from bubble netting.
When we reached the desired spot they were nowhere to be found, but we sat and waited for several minutes just in case they surfaced nearby after sounding. Within two minutes, they had not only surfaced less than 100 yards off our 10 oâ€™clock but were trumpeting. For those not familiar with this behaviour, humpbacks can literally trumpet like an elephant and do it more often than people might think. Other than communication or pure joy, no one knows for sure why they do it, but it is a pleasant enough sound and certainly one you do not get to hear every day on a whale watch. Not only that, but they began approaching us, three abreast, trumpeting as loud as they possibly could. One split off and headed for the bow where it began to mouth our anchor chain with its baleen, while the other two came right up to the boat and began to slowly circle us repeatedly. They would stop every few feet and spyhop, keeping their rostrums just out of our reach, not allowing contact. The most surprising thing to me about all this was the fact that all three of them continued to trumpet for the better part of the hour that they spent around our boat. I have never heard them communicate in such a loud and continuous manner. Were they calling other whales or just having WINTER 2012
fun with us? The longer this kept up the more convinced I became that they were not just talking amongst themselves or calling to other whales but were making a concentrated effort to communicate with us. How frustrating to both them and us that this was not possible. For those who have never had such an experience, try to imagine a lion, tiger, or elephant coming right up to you, trying to tell you something but not knowing how. We take it for granted that our pets at home can communicate with us, but when it happens in the wild it becomes a supernatural occurrence. I used to believe that humpback whales were solitary and shy creatures that avoided boats, except for those in places where they have become habituated to them such as off the coast of Lahaina in Maui, Hawaii where watching humpbacks is the state pastime. But just offshore from my native California these whales have proved time and again that nothing is written in stone. Now they come in great numbers every summer, not only approaching boats but seeking human contact. I hope I live long enough to find out what they are trying to tell us. n Coast&Kayak Magazine is proud to be able to serialize James Dorseyâ€™s book Dancing With Dinosaurs, a naturalistâ€™s 15-year odyssey of kayaking among whales.
Published on Oct 26, 2012
Explore Princess Louisa Inlet, frolic with cougars on D'Arcy Island, paddle the coast of Gwaii Haanas and try Greenland paddles in this issu...