Humpback Whales in Tonga 2012: Part 4

We’ve identified seven more humpback whale mother/ calf pairs this week, bringing the current tally to a total of 24.

Humpback whale calf, Tonga
Humpback whale calf #19, the first confirmed male I have this season

At this same date in previous seasons, we were at 33 ID-ed baby humpback whales in 2011, 16 in 2010, 26 in 2009, and 15 in 2008.

To help put this in context, the figure below is a graphical representation of the calf count tallies from the past four seasons, with the X-axis representing time starting on 1 August and continuing through 30 October, and the Y-axis representing the number of ID-ed mother/ calf pairs:

Humpback whale calf counts, Tonga 2008-2011
Humpback whale calf counts, Tonga 2008-2011

It’s important to bear in mind that these figures aren’t directly comparable, as I have different start dates each season, as well as a different number of boats and people helping each year. At the end of the season, I calculate a mother/ calf pair count per boat day figure, which helps make the calf count figures somewhat more of an apples-to-apples comparison.

On a subjective basis over the long term though, the total calf count figures for each season do seem to provide an accurate reflection of both the “mood” of each year, and also the total number of whales and babies we encounter in a particular year.

As you may have discerned from the graph above, we’re on track for a similar quantity and slope of sightings as in 2009. Subjectively, we have a similar mood this season among the whale encounters as in 2009, though obviously no two seasons are exactly alike.

Humpback whale calf in Tonga
Humpback whale calf #21 of the season, a healthy, happy baby boy

Poker Pairs
I have a lot of miscellaneous stuff to attend to this weekend, so I’m not going to write too much more about the baby whales we’ve seen. Just one quick anecdote...about an experience that was both incredibly exciting, and a total, utter bummer.

On 5 September, I saw for the first time ever, two mother/ calf pairs socialising together.

In Poker terms, two moms and babies might appear at face value to be a hand with two pairs. In humpback whale terms, it’s more like getting a royal straight flush on the first deal.

There was one occasion in the past when I saw two mother/ calf pairs come in close proximity, when I thought they may have associated for some time...but I wasn’t able to get into the water back then, so I didn’t see exactly what, if anything, happened.

In this case, I was in the water, and I unequivocally saw the two moms and babies together, swimming in sync, with the moms rolling over, one repeatedly lifting her pectoral fin in the air, and the babies happily playing alongside their mothers (though not with one another). There was perhaps three to four metres between the two adult female humpbacks. People who were on the boat confirmed seeing the same thing. (The two mom/ calf pairs involved were calf #20 and our second encounter with calf #12.)

The bummer part...and this is an extreme bummer for that the visibility was poor(!!!), the whales were some distance ahead and swimming away from me (so I was huffing and puffing to keep up), and the skies were overcast (so light levels were low)...all meaning that although the two females and babies stayed together for somewhere between five and ten minutes, I was unable to get any photos.

When I finally gave up and got out of the water, I was simultaneously overjoyed and depressed...exuberant because I’d seen something that doesn’t happen often (in fact, I wasn’t sure it happened at all until 5 September), but disheartened because I wasn't able to document it.

So naturally, I ate three extra-large portions of (delicious...Thank you Kirsty) lasagna for lunch to compensate. Karma was thus restored.

Anyway, for the record, here’s what it looked like:

Artist's(?) rendition of two humpback whale mother and calf pairs playing together in Tonga
Artist's(?) rendition of two humpback whale
mother/ calf pairs playing together in Tonga

Whale Song
I’ll write and post more later, but for now, here is an audio clip extracted from a video file that my friend Serene took of a singer. This is the song I referred to in my update last week.

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Humpback Whales in Tonga | Part 1
Humpback Whales in Tonga | Part 2
Humpback Whales in Tonga | Part 3