We are on the No Bananas, with a pod of 7 pilot whales (Globicephala – actually members of the dolphin family) about 100 metres off on the starboard bow. Three of our fastest swimmers are trying to approach them while the rest of us watch.
Suddenly we watchers are startled by a loud whoosh behind us. A juvenile humpback has surfaced on our port quarter, right next to No Bananas. It’s as if he’s saying “Pilot whales, schmilot whales. Pick me – I’m much more fun!” So we do - and he is!
For the next two hours, he regularly surfaces and rolls around near whoever’s in the water. He seems to enjoy the attention. Some of the photos tell the story best:
On one occasion, Naschi was playing around in the water while we waited for the whale to resurface.
The whale seems to be watching with steepled pectorals:
And then he begins his closest pass:
The next photo is of Naschi and me, taken by Scott Portelli:
And these are the pictures I am taking in the previous photo:
This is our final view:
An exhilarating moment for both of us!
This whale led me to wonder about human interaction with humpbacks in this part of the world. This particular whale would have been a calf in this area a few years ago, and so was probably already habituated to human attention. It’s quite feasible that he expects to have swimmers around when he surfaces in these waters, which makes him a very 21st century whale, complete with fear of missing out on interactions – perhaps even an attention deficit syndrome.
There are several modern records of humpback whales seeking attention. Perhaps the standout is that of the one affectionately called Crazy Whale Number One by Scott Portelli. Scott has written about how it lifts people out of the water on its nose, and how if swimmers are falling behind, it gently scoops them forward with its pectoral fin. It lifted Scott out of the water in this way, and seemed to consciously avoid erratic and potentially dangerous movements with its tail flukes. Scott encountered this whale, with its distinctive heart-shaped mark over its left eye, off Vava’u in 2015 and 2016, and has posted a brief video on Instagram.
Coincidentally, while I was preparing this, I came across a video by biologist Nan Hauser, published by the BBC. It shows a humpback apparently shielding her from a tiger shark off the Cook Islands in 2017. The whale’s behaviour seemed familiar, and when I watched Hauser’s video, sure enough, it was Crazy Whale #1. Scott confirmed my identification.
I wouldn’t be completely surprised if this juvenile grows up to become another Crazy Whale, to the delight of future swimmers.
As noted in yesterday's post, Naschi and I were on a whale-swimming trip organised by Scott Portelli http://swimmingwithgentlegiants.com/